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Malta and the Holy See this morning signed the revised agreement on marriage, following technical talks held between representatives of both sides.
The signing of the Third Additional Protocol took place this morning between Dr George W. Vella, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and H.E. Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, Apostolic Nuncio, in the presence of Dr Owen Bonnici, Mr Joseph Cole, Permanent Secretary, Dr Peter Grech, Attorney General and their Excellencies Msgr. Paul Cremona, Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta, Msgr. Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo and President of the Maltese Episcopal Conference, and Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Auxiliary Bishop of Malta, and Msgr. Simón Bolívar Sánchez Carrión, Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature.
The significant changes to the Agreement between Malta and the Holy See on the recognition of civil effects to canonical marriages and to the decisions of the ecclesiastical authorities and tribunals about such marriages (“the Agreement”) are shown in full below:
“The repeal of Article 4 paragraph 1 of the Agreement and of Paragraph III of the Additional Protocol thereto whereby the courts of civil jurisdiction are prohibited from continuing to take cognizance of an action for the nullity of a marriage celebrated as a canonical marriage once an action for nullity of that marriage has been filed before the ecclesiastical tribunals; and
The repeal of the Second Additional Protocol to the Agreement whereby if a marriage is confirmed as valid by a final judgement of the ecclesiastical tribunals no action on the same grounds of nullity may be filed in the civil courts in respect of that marriage.
Judgements of the ecclesiastical tribunals given in respect of marriages where one of the parties is a citizen of Malta or is domiciled in Malta will retain their civil effects if their registration in the Public Registry is ordered by the Court of Appeal according to the procedure stipulated in Articles 24 and 26 of the Marriage Act.
In ordering such registration the Court of Appeal cannot re-examine the merits of the case but it has to ascertain a number of factors including that the procedure before the ecclesiastical tribunals did not violate the ‘fair trial’ principles of the Constitution of Malta and that the judgement of the ecclesiastical tribunals does not go against a previous judgment to the contrary of the courts of civil jurisdiction based on the same grounds of nullity.
The practical effect of the Third Additional Protocol will be that:
Parties will be able to continue an action for the nullity of a marriage celebrated as a canonical marriage before the civil courts notwithstanding the fact that one of the parties may have filed an action for nullity of the marriage before the ecclesiastical tribunals after the commencement of the civil action.
When the civil action declaring the nullity of the marriage becomes res iudicata the marriage will be annulled for all civil effects irrespective of the fact that an action for the nullity of the same marriage may still be pending before the ecclesiastical tribunals.
In the exceptional cases where the proceedings before the ecclesiastical tribunals are concluded before the civil proceedings (e.g. matrimonio rato et non consumato cases) the decision of the ecclesiastical tribunals may be given civil effects only after it has been registered by order of the Court of Appeal in accordance with Articles 24 and 26 of the Marriage Act.
In this way parties will save expenses and the need of furthering their civil case while the Court of Appeal will retain the last word;
The fact that an ecclesiastical tribunal would have upheld the validity of a marriage will no longer prohibit a civil tribunal from declaring the same marriage to be null for all civil purposes even on the same grounds of nullity.
The coming into effect of the Third Additional Protocol will require parallel amendments to the Marriage Act in order to remove the various provisions in that Act which give effect to the provisions of the Agreement which are to be repealed by the Third Additional Protocol.”