Pope Reforms Catholic Church Marriage Annulment Process | Pope Francis

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The Vatican is making it much easier for Catholics to annul their marriages following a push by Pope Francis for reform in a process long criticized for being complicated, expensive and out of reach for many. The rules unveiled on Tuesday speed up the annulment process, with a fast-track now available, and allow appeals to be adjudicated by a local church official rather than the Vatican in what represents a significant decentralization of power away from Rome.

The pope said the changes would not encourage or “promote” marriage annulment, but rather change the time it takes to complete the process. He also pointed out that the cancellation should be free.

The pontiff wrote that the changes were made so that “the hearts of the faithful who await the clarification of their condition are not long oppressed by the darkness of doubt.”

The move marks a stunning break with previous efforts to make reversals harder to secure, especially by Francis’ more conservative predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

“It’s a 180-degree change in direction,” said James Bretzke, professor of theology at Boston College. “François has shown us time and time again his [different approach], which is ‘Let’s look at the people in the pews, in the barrios, on the ground, and meet them in their existential needs.’

He added: “It makes [requesting an annulment] less intimidating to the average couple who currently thinks this thing is next to impossible, or very expensive, or will take forever.

While the new rules will have a practical impact that will be felt by Catholics around the world, they also overturn an ongoing and polarized debate within the Vatican over whether Communion should be offered to divorced and remarried Catholics, who is currently not allowed unless the person has received a cancellation.

Catholic bishops are meeting in Rome next month – the second part of an extraordinary session of the synod of bishops – to discuss the Church’s attitude towards the modern family. While the issue of communion for divorced Catholics was considered high on the agenda, some experts said Tuesday’s announcement would likely defuse the issue.

The new rules do not change the Church’s opposition to divorce and communion – a fact that will reassure conservatives – but it will make it much more convenient for remarried Catholics to have their subsequent marriages recognized by the Church – which will appeal to progressives – and allow these Catholics to receive communion.

“Francis has repeatedly expressed his concern that the synod should not focus on a narrow canon of contentious issues, but should instead consider the wide range of challenges to family life, including the impact of poverty, war and forced migration,” wrote John Allen, associate editor of the Crux site.

“The possibility of this actually happening seems less remote following this decision than before.”

The rules were established by a panel of canonical lawyers appointed by the Vatican who spent a year studying ways to simplify the process while ensuring that the church maintains its position that marriage is a sacred covenant and for life.

The man overseeing the changes, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, told a news conference it was only the third revision of the process in the church’s 2,000-year history, the last reforms having been established in 1741 and 1908.

It has been described as a change that serves the poor and the suffering whose marriages are broken.

According to the guidelines, a couple seeking an annulment will no longer need a second confirmation decision to have their marriage annulled after it has already been decided by a church court. Instead, there was “sufficient moral certainty achieved” with a single decision, the panel said.

In one case considered straightforward, the panel said some annulment decisions could be made directly by a local bishop. Francis urged bishops to create structures that would guide estranged Catholics considering annulment or divorce.

Among the reasons a party could seek an annulment, the panel included the discovery that a person in the marriage was in an extramarital relationship at the time of the marriage, when a spouse obtained an abortion, and when a party did not had no religious faith.

The changes will allow Catholics around the world who wish to remarry to have their second marriage recognized by the Church, allowing them to participate fully in the life of the Church.

While cancellations are relatively easy to receive in the United States, the process can be extremely difficult in countries like Argentina and Chile, where it can take years.

Unlike the divorce process, in which a marriage is dissolved, a full annulment is based on the church’s finding that the marriage was never properly concluded in the first place. Reasons may include one or both partners not understanding the vows, not realizing marriage was a lifetime commitment, or not wanting to have children.

The pope has long been a strong advocate for easing the process, a reflection of the real-world experience he brought to the papacy and which earned him a reformist reputation. He has repeatedly said that cancellations should not be a source of profit for the church.

The move can be interpreted as part of a larger effort to bring disillusioned and discouraged Catholics back to the church and the faith.

Last week, the Pope announced that all priests would be allowed to offer forgiveness to contrite women who have had abortions as part of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins in December. Under normal circumstances, forgiveness for abortion, which is considered a grave sin and subject to automatic excommunication, can only be offered by priests authorized to do so by a bishop.

The annulment rule change also affects non-Catholics who are divorced and wish to remarry a Catholic. Non-Catholics need an annulment before validly marrying a Catholic in the church.

Catholics who receive a civil divorce are not excommunicated, and the Church recognizes that divorce proceedings are necessary to settle civil matters, including child custody. But divorced Catholics are not allowed to remarry until their previous marriage has been annulled. If a Catholic has remarried civilly but his previous marriage has not been annulled, he is not allowed to receive Communion.

The changes were signed by the pope on August 15 and take effect on December 8, which marks the start of the Jubilee Year, a holy year dedicated to mercy.

Has your marriage been annulled? We would like to hear from those who have been, are still or hope to be married in the Catholic Church. How are you affected by the Pope’s reforms? You can share your experiences and stories by filling out the form below. We will present some of them in our reports.

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