Dear Commons Community,
Pope Francis announced new procedures yesterday to make it easier for Roman Catholics to obtain marriage annulments, a move intended to streamline a process long criticized by many Catholics as too cumbersome, complicated and expensive. The new rules take effect on Dec. 8 and are expected to speed up cases in which neither spouse is contesting the annulment. These fast-track cases may be heard as soon as 30 days after a couple files an application, and at most within 45 days. The new procedures also eliminate one of the two church trials that are required of all couples seeking an annulment, a process that can drag on for years, at great cost.
“Church officials acknowledge that many details still have to be worked out, including instructing bishops on the annulment process. In the past, Francis has said the annulment process should be free, and Vatican experts said the new system was expected to be free, not counting legitimate fees to maintain the tribunal process.
Divorce is a topic that has long splintered many of the Catholic faithful from the church. Under church law, marriage is indissoluble, divorce is not recognized, and any Catholic who remarries without annulling a first marriage is committing adultery.
Yet many Catholics are divorced, especially in the Western world, and the divide between reality and church dogma has alienated many of the faithful. Many divorced Catholics, believing that annulments are too invasive and onerous, have drifted away from the church without even bothering to undertake the process.
“These reforms say, ‘If you think a marriage is invalid, don’t let the procedure frighten you away,’ ” John Thavis, an author and Vatican expert, said in an interview.
The new rules demonstrate Francis’ approach to his papacy: Change procedures and tone, so as to attract people back to the church, without changing doctrine. They are also a tacit acknowledgment of the challenges the church faces in the modern world, and Francis’ attempts to find points of interaction.”
Pope Francis should be praised for the way he has reached out to divorced Catholics but more needs to be done. If the Church truly wants to open itself to include divorced Catholics, procedures should be established to receive the sacraments through normal confession.