Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Pope Francis makes it faster, easier to get an annulment

Tom Kington
Los Angeles Times
September 8, 2015

Pope Francis made it faster, easier and cheaper for Roman Catholics to obtain marriage annulments on Tuesday, marking one of the biggest shake-ups of the Vatican’s rules on marriage in centuries.

In the declaration, issued as motu proprios, or papal rulings, Francis ordered fast track annulments when the cases were “backed by particularly evident arguments” and scrapped the current two-tier system that automatically required a second ruling.

Francis also decreed that annulments would henceforth be free except for the “fair compensation of the court workers.”

The moves, which could see some marriages annulled in as few as 45 days, could appease Catholics who have long argued that the procedures are too lengthy and too costly, though it does not affect the reasons why they can seek to have their marriages ended.

Marriages can be annulled in the Catholic Church if it is ruled they were invalid from the outset, due to reasons including an unwillingness by one spouse to have children. Vatican courts also have been known to hand down unusual reasons to annul, including husbands who are too attached to their mothers.

The new measures give more power to local bishops to handle annulments, a move seen as helping Catholics in areas where ecclesiastical tribunals are not located. Appeals to a Vatican court will become rarer, boosting Francis’ bid to decentralize Vatican authority.

Tuesday’s orders were issued as two motu proprio documents, one modifying procedures in Latin Rite canon law, the other for Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.

The reforms are based on the findings of a task force that Francis set up in August 2014 to speed up annulments. Father Pio Vito Pinto, the head of the Vatican’s appeal court for annulments, said the changes were probably the most significant in annulment procedures since the 18th century papacy of Pope Benedict XIV.

About 50,000 annulment procedures were started last year.

The papal statement did not tackle another sometimes controversial issue involved with ending Catholic marriages.

Catholics who currently seek to end their marriages by divorcing in a civil court, rather than by annulment, and then remarrying are considered adulterers by the Church, which does not recognize divorce.

The denial of communion to divorced Catholics who remarry was at the center of debate at a synod on the family held at the Vatican last year, following complaints from remarried Catholics that they are permanently excluded from communion while repentant murderers can participate.

The debate is likely to return at a follow-up synod next month, where liberals may feel placated by the acceleration of the annulment procedure while conservatives may see it as debasing marriage.

The pope's rulings Tuesday will resonate in the U.S., which accounts for about half the annulments carried out in the world and where Francis is due to visit this month.

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