Alcoholism and marital consent


Alcoholism & marital consent: an investigation of the alcoholic's capacity/incapacity to exchange valid consent

The problem of alcoholism has invaded almost every modern culture. Marriage, a natural and sacred reality, is also present in every culture. Sadly, it is not uncommon that these two realities become intertwined, causing untold pain and turbulence for the individuals involved and the broader society. The A. has combined the psychological sciences with the canonical sciences to provide us with a comprehensive study on the effects of alcoholism on the placing of valid marriage consent, according to the laws of the Catholic Church. The subject of this book is long-awaited by many matrimonial tribunals, as canonists struggle to adjudicate marriage cases involving, to various degrees, the use/abuse of alcohol and its effects on the conjugal relationship.

The A. has adapted his doctoral dissertation of the same title in order to present this subject matter in book form. The format of the book is similar to a dissertation-style presentation. As such, there are five chapters, each being subdivided quite extensively into various headings. There is also a general conclusion, again dissertation-like, followed by several appendices and a comprehensive bibliography.

Chapter one is entitled "An Understanding of Alcoholism." This is an important and suitable place to begin such a topic. As stated above, alcoholism is found in virtually every society. As such, there is the danger that many of us may consider that we already "know" what alcoholism is, and how to recognize it. This is far from being the case. The A. tells us that many basic questions remain unanswered by those psychologists and psychiatrists who are considered expert in this field of study. Some of these unanswered questions are: What is alcoholism? Is alcoholism a symptom or a disease or a disorder? Is progression inevitable? Is alcohol abuse a stage in the development of alcohol dependence? Are there personality differences between individuals who drink socially and individuals who are alcohol dependent? After a definitive diagnosis, must abstinence always be the goal of treatment? Is it possible to revert from dependence to controlled consumption?

The A. tackles these questions by presenting the most widely-accepted models in current usage by professionals who must deal with individuals and families for whom alcohol abuse is a factor in interpersonal strife. He also presents some commonly held myths that, while accepted by society at large, are not supported by empirical evidence. This is useful to those of us in tribunals who may think we "know" or have witnesses who think they "know" about alcoholism. He stresses that understanding of alcoholism is far from complete and ongoing research is necessary in order to clarify the above questions.

Chapter two is entitled "The Impact of Alcoholism on the Alcoholic's Personality." In this chapter, the A. discusses the concept of personality, its development, and the ability of alcohol to disrupt the normal personality development. The results of psychological tests designed to measure various aspects of personality are presented in some detail. This will be of benefit to those who are expert in the field of psychology. Of more use for the canonist will be the summary of such testing, as presented in the conclusion of each section. Sections entitled "The Alcoholic's Capacity for Social Relationships," "The Alcoholic's Capacity for Marital Relationships," and "The Alcoholic's Capacity for Parenting" are more accessible and provide material of direct interest to tribunal personnel.

Chapter three, "Alcoholism and the Incapacity to Elicit Marital Consent," deals with c. 1095, 1[Symbol Not Transcribed] [degree] and 2[Symbol Not Transcribed] [degree] and their use in marriage cases involving alcoholism. At the beginning of the chapter are discussions of the well-known areas of "the nature of marriage" and "the nature of consent." These are followed by Rotal decisions involving the above-identified grounds and alcoholism. Jurisprudential principles found in the sentences by Rotal auditors provide the guidelines by which the lower tribunals are expected to adjudicate. These principles are clearly discerned and presented by the A. in this chapter.

The A. has devoted chapter four to the study of marriage cases involving alcoholism and c. 1095, 3[Symbol Not Transcribed] [degree]. There is a detailed discussion of the canon itself: the essential obligations of marriage, psychic vs. psychological causes, the issues of severity, antecedence, perpetuity and relative incapacity. This is followed by a study of the impact of alcoholism on a person's capacity to assume the essential obligations of marriage. As in the previous chapter, Rotal decisions in this regard are presented in some detail, with a distillation of the applicable juridical principles.

As we know, c. 1095 is not the only ground on which the validity of a marriage can be impugned. With a nod in this regard, the A. has presented, in chapter five, a discussion on the suitability of cc. 1097, 1098 and 1102 as grounds in marriage cases involving alcoholism. Although no Rotal decisions have been made using these canons for alcoholism cases, the A. provides valid arguments and hypothetical scenarios within which the consideration of these grounds would be appropriate. This chapter goes on to discuss the somewhat tangential issues of the use of prohibitions, the roles of advocates, procurators and curators, and the pastoral implications of dealing with alcoholics and their families.

There are several useful and interesting appendices in this book. They include checklists provided by The Women's Alcoholism Center (San Francisco, California) and Alcoholics Anonymous World Services that are used to help people identify problem alcohol use. There is also a glossary of terms used in the medical, psychiatric and psychological testing of people who abuse alcohol. This glossary is required to understand some of the testing methodologies and results presented in chapters one and two. The bibliography is very extensive, providing the sources of both canonical and social sciences information.

There can be little doubt that a work on this subject matter is important to the body of scientific research in canon law. It is also of practical importance to those canonists who work in tribunal ministry and must, with justice and equity, adjudicate marital cases involving alcoholism. This work will be of benefit in both these areas. If there are any criticisms to be made, they are directed only to style. The book is very similar to a doctoral dissertation and as such, has a great deal of detail that the overworked canon lawyer may not need. Some of the discussion around the psychological testing, etc. can be difficult, even with the aid of the glossary, for those not already familiar with the language and concepts of that field. A useful addition to the appendices might be a questionnaire indicating the appropriate manner in which marriage cases involving alcoholism could be investigated. This reviewer offers the latter suggestion in light of the fact that, as discussed in chapter one, there are many myths around and about alcoholism that some tribunal personnel may also hold. These misconceptions can lead to an incomplete or inaccurate assessment of the parties and of the marital situation under study. Having said the foregoing, this book remains a valuable tool for marriage tribunals wishing to provide insightful, pastoral and judicious care to those seeking assistance from the Church.