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* Tribunal, Columbus, Ohio 272 The Jurist 71 (2011) 272–294 THE IMPACT OF THREATS OF SUICIDE ON MARITAL CONSENT John G. Johnson* Brittany and Kyle began dating when she was nearly seventeen and he was eighteen. “The course of true love never did yet run smooth,” lamented Rosalind. Whether or not Kyle’s and Brittany’s love was true, its course was certainly not smooth. Kyle tended to be possessive but inattentive. His favorite pastimes were working on cars and drinking with his buddies. He was frequently late for dates. Brittany tolerated their less than storybook romance because he was good-looking and because , after he graduated from high school and began working, he was able to be more generous than the beaus of her girlfriends.After she graduated from high school and began attending a nearby college, however, disenchantment grew. Her college friends seemed more mature than Kyle; and she was irritated by his absences and by his expectations that, when she had free time, she would not spend it with her friends. On Valentine’s Day, however, he surprised her with a large engagement ring. He nevertheless continued being late for dates; he continued showing interest only in his hobbies and friends; he continued scolding her when she “hung out” with her own friends. That fall, she attempted to return the ring and break off the relationship. When she proved obdurate, Kyle threatened to crash his car and kill himself. Believing that he was silly enough to do it, she relented; and they married that December, but did not live together happily ever after. This story is an amalgam of details from cases I have seen in my thirty-five years of tribunal work. Other tribunal ministers have almost certainly seen similar cases. People do sometimes use threats of suicide to force romantic partners to continue a courtship or even to marry. When divorced people bring an experience like that before a tribunal, the canonist naturally asks whether the threats of suicide are juridically relevant and, if so, how. The question I shall be exploring in this article is, what guidance does Rotal jurisprudence give the tribunal practitioner in dealing with such cases. In preparing this article, I was able to unearth fourteen Rotal decisions , which resolved twelve cases. Two of the cases generated two published definitive sentences each. Thirteen ponentes authored these deci- sions. Funghini was responsible for two of them. In additional to the ponentes , fifteen other auditors participated in deciding the cases. Thus, twenty-eight auditors contributed to the decisions. Ten auditors participated in deciding two or more of them. Sabattani, Lefebvre, and Faltin each participated in deciding three of them. The jurisprudence found in the decisions would seem to reflect the views of a broad range of auditors , not just a small coterie. Only five of the decisions were affirmative. Nine were negative, but one of these was overturned by the next Rotal turnus. I shall begin by examining three of the five affirmative decisions, then analyze in cursory fashion the nine negatives. My reason for leaving two of the affirmatives till last will emerge during the discussion. The Threats of Suicide Might Be of Secondary Importance The first ultimately affirmatively decided case is the sort of case few American tribunals are likely to encounter. To avoid Nazi persecution, Elsa’s parents sent their young daughter from Austria to Hungary, where aJewishcouplenamedAdamactedasherfosterparents.1 Whilethere,she met George, a wealthy young Catholic of Jewish descent. He immediately fell in love with her.2 She politely but firmly resisted his attentions, declining his proposal of marriage. Her foster parents vigorously favored the match because it appeared so advantageous. George’s intentions were urgentandsomewhatselfinterested:hethoughtthathavinganAryanwife might protect him and his family against future anti-Semitic discrimination . Elsa’s parents and Mr. and Mrs. Adam re-enforced George’s insistence that Elsa marry him. According to Ewers, “the plaintiff herself expressly declares that she was induced to choose to enter a marriage she did not desire because of pressure from George’s family and in particular because of the threats of suicide the Respondent made.”3 Both Pinna and Ewers recognized that Elsa had not wanted to marry...


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