VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has made it easier and faster for Catholics to get marriage annulments, the most sweeping reform in 250 years, and has asked bishops to be more welcoming to divorced couples.
Under the old standards, it often took years to obtain an annulment, with high legal costs. Francis said the process should be free and the new rules mean a marriage could be declared null and void in just 45 days in some cases.
The announcement came the week after Francis signaled a more merciful approach to women who had obtained abortions and was another sign of his willingness to shake up the Roman Catholic Church and try to relax some of its rules. the most rigid.
In response to the Pope’s announcement, Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said, “The Church’s vision of marriage is rich. Living is a beautiful thing. Yet reality tells us that it is not always possible for a couple to find that their particular marriage is the gift God intended. Marriages fail. Today, Pope Francis announced that he has heard the request of those who have asked him to streamline the procedures by which such failed marriages can be assessed to determine if a declaration of nullity is possible. Like so many of Pope Francis’ actions, this is another way he wants us to know God’s mercy. The sacraments of the Church should be available to the people of God whenever possible. These new procedures will streamline the process by which an annulment could be granted. At the same time, they do not modify the Church’s rich teaching on Christian marriage. The document making these changes public reminds us of the indissoluble nature of marriage and the sanctity of a couple’s covenant promise to love each other as Jesus commanded.
“Pope Francis writes that the regulations do not ‘promote the nullity of marriages, but the speed of trials, as well as correct simplicity.’
“The Diocese of Portland Court has always worked to process the nullity requests it receives in a fair, compassionate and timely manner. These revised regulations will surely improve what has already been his practice.
In a document known as the Motu Proprio, Latin for “on his own initiative,” Francis reaffirmed traditional teaching on the “indissolubility of marriage,” making clear that the Vatican in no way promotes or sanctions divorce. .
However, he said he would make it easier for separated couples to obtain an annulment – a decision by which the Church decides that a marriage is not valid in the first place because certain preconditions such as free referee, psychological maturity and openness to having children are lacking. .
Francis eliminated a previously mandatory review of an annulment decision by a second court and gave bishops sweeping powers to quickly adjudicate the clearest cases.
He said he had decided to streamline procedures so that Catholics seeking annulments would not be “long oppressed by the darkness of doubt” about whether they could have their marriages declared null and void.
Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Vatican appeals court which rules on annulments, told a press conference that the new rules were the most significant changes to laws since the pontificate of Benedict XIV, which reigned from 1740 to 1758.
“The pope seeks to respond in a pastoral way to the tens of thousands of couples who experience deep pain and alienation from broken marriages,” said Father James Bretzke, professor of theology at Boston College.
Francis took charge of the 1.2 billion-member church in 2013, replacing Pope Benedict, a hardline theological much-loved by conservatives for seeking to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity.
The Argentine pope came across as a much more approachable figure and spoke repeatedly about the need for the Church to show mercy and understand the needs of Catholics struggling to live by its rules.
Catholics who divorce and remarry civilly are considered by the Church as still married to their first spouse and living in a state of sin. This prevents them from receiving sacraments such as Communion.
Without changing that position, Francis wrote Tuesday that bishops should show “particular pastoral concern” for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Many couples and priests have complained that the complex procedures discourage even those with legitimate grounds for annulment from trying to obtain one.
Some 50,000 cancellation proceedings were initiated last year, nearly half of them in the United States, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Apostolate Research.
Francis is due to make a historic visit to the United States next month, where his progressive views on climate change and his condemnation of creeping capitalism are sure to put him at odds with Republican presidential candidates.