The Vatican on Tuesday announced the most sweeping reforms to Roman Catholic marriage annulment procedures in centuries.
In two documents, entitled “The Lord Jesus, the Gentile Judge” and “Sweet and Merciful JesusPope Francis reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teaching on “the indissolubility of the sacred bond of marriage”, but simplified the process of annulment, which many have considered for years to be cumbersome, costly and unaffordable. scope for most Catholics.
The pope’s announcement comes about a year after he commissioned a study on the best ways to speed up the annulment process and make it more accessible, so Catholics seeking annulments can get justice — and about 250 years since. the last substantial changes to the law of annulment have been made.
The new rules are also Pope Francis’ latest efforts to promote a more pastoral tone on issues that pit conservative Catholic traditions against a changing global culture. Just last week, he authorized Roman Catholic priests around the world to offer reconciliation and forgiveness to women who have had abortions.
“Although Catholic teaching condemns [this] in the strongest terms, Francis has often emphasized compassion and the need for the Church to continue to serve Catholics who may not live up to its moral teachings,” Harry Bruinius wrote. from the Christian Science Monitor.
The new rules eliminate a previously mandatory automatic review of an annulment decision by a second diocesan court and reduce the cost of proceedings, which can cost thousands of dollars in legal and court fees. The pope has also given bishops sweeping powers to judge the simplest and clearest cases themselves, in a move that aims to provide Catholic couples in poorer parts of the world with pathways to annulments.
At the heart of the pope’s decision is shifting sentiment, particularly among Western Catholics, around controversial issues such as divorce. The 1.2 billion-member Catholic church does not recognize divorce, but does allow a ‘decree of nullity’ – a ruling that a marriage was never valid in the first place under church law, because prerequisites such as free will, psychological maturity and the will to have children have not been met.
Catholics who have chosen to separate and remarry outside the church are still considered married to their first spouse, and therefore live in sin and prohibited from receiving sacraments such as communion – an essential part of active Catholic life. In the USA, 62% of Catholics said the church should allow divorced Catholics who divorce and remarry without annulment to receive communion, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
The pope has come under fire from some conservatives for his more permissive stance on issues the Church has long opposed.
“It’s a typical Francis gesture in that sense,” said Chad Pecknold, a theologian at the Catholic University of Washington. told the Washington Post after the pope authorized priests to forgive those who had abortions but truly repented. “It’s a very serious sin, but I’m not going to dwell on the sin part.”
Others, however, believe that the pope takes into consideration the current context when interpreting the teachings and traditions of the Church – a position that may resonate with many Catholics struggling to find a balance between life and faith. The popularity rating of the pontiff among Americans is around 60%, according to Gallup.
“I think Pope Francis is better at emphasizing forgiveness. And soften the perception of an all-or-nothing attitude towards Catholicism,” Darcy Fargo, who returned to Catholicism a few months ago after years away from her childhood faith, told The Monitor. “A lot of times that’s a world we live in. But I don’t believe our God is like that, and I don’t believe our faith is like that.”
This report uses information from The Associated Press and Reuters.