Q+A: What do the changes Pope Francis made to the annulment process mean?

A: Pope Francis recently released two motu proprios (documents initiated by the Pope and discussing procedural issues, not doctrine) which significantly altered Canon Law regarding annulments. Both are essentially the same document, one being addressed to the Eastern Churches and the other to us in the Latin rite.

Similar to the recent announcement regarding dispensations for abortion, Pope Francis has NOT changed doctrine. Nor has Pope Francis in any way indicated a softening of the Church’s stance on divorce. Marriage is and always will be sacrament and indissoluble. However, in cases where annulments are granted, the Church has determined that a sacramental marriage never existed in the first place.

During the synod in 2014, the bishops requested changes be made to make the annulment process quicker and more accessible. Pope Francis responded to this request by forming a commission to review the process and make changes where necessary. These changes are a result of the pastoral reality we face today, which is that in many countries annulments can take years and costs can be prohibitive. In other cases, the process is so overwhelming that couples chose to be married outside of the Church and forgo participation in the Sacraments.

To address this, the Pope has simplified the process by removing the requirement for all annulments to have a second judgement and has allowed very straightforward cases to be judged by the local bishop. This will significantly reduce the administrative burden on Tribunals (and by extension the entire Church) and will speed up the process. There are conflicting reports, but Pope Francis has either directed that annulments be free or that the costs be significantly reduced. There are numerous other changes (such as the metropolitan (archbishop) hearing appeals), however, the main points are noted above.

The changes come into effect on December 8, which coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Ryan Sales

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