Vatican City – Concerned about the slow passage of his reforms to the marriage annulment process, Pope Francis has created a Vatican commission to encourage and verify progress in Italy’s dioceses.
“Every bishop who does not yet have his own ecclesiastical tribunal must seek to erect one or at least strive to make it possible,” the pope wrote in his document formally establishing a pontifical commission to oversee and assist Italian dioceses. . The document was released on November 26.
Many of Italy’s more than 200 dioceses do not have their own courts but refer cases to one of the country’s 18 regional courts. However, Pope Francis has been encouraging Italian bishops to set up diocesan tribunals since 2015 when he enacted reforms to the process of verifying the validity or nullity of a marriage.
The Pope’s reforms, published in two documents – “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the Sweet Judge”) for the Latin Rite Church and “Mitis et Misericors Iesus,” (“The Sweet and Merciful Jesus” ) for Eastern Catholic Churches – reformed sections of canon law dealing with applications for declaration of nullity of a marriage.
The documents emphasize the role of the local bishop in judging cases and accompanying couples. The reform also streamlined the process and insisted that it be free or as close to free as possible.
“The judicial ministry of the bishop, by its very nature, presupposes a closeness between the judge and the faithful, which in turn creates at least an expectation on the part of the faithful that they will have recourse to the court of their bishop,” the pope wrote in establishing the new commission.
While the Code of Canon Law allows a bishop to have recourse to another tribunal, the pope said, this possibility should be considered exceptional.
Pope Francis also asked the Italian episcopal conference to “equitably distribute to the dioceses the human and economic resources” necessary to carry out the reform process.
The pontifical commission, he said, will be set up at the Roman Rota, a Vatican tribunal dealing primarily with marriage cases. Msgr. Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, Dean of the Roman Rota, will serve as chairman of the commission, while two Rota judges and Bishop Vincenzo Pisanello of Oria, Italy, will serve on the commission.
“The task of the commission will be to observe and verify the full and immediate application of the reform of the process of matrimonial nullity” in the dioceses of Italy, wrote the pope, “as well as to suggest to the same churches all that is considered opportune and necessary to support and aid the fruitful pursuit of reform, so that the Churches of Italy may prove themselves faithful and generous mothers in a matter closely linked to the salvation of souls, as requested by the majority of my brothers in the episcopate at the extraordinary synod on the family”.