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Changes in the Church
September 11, 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
This past week our Holy Father, Pope Francis, announced changes to be made in the process for annulments in the Catholic Church.
This is a big step and I want to provide more information for you and anyone you may know who could benefit from knowing more about this change. Here is part of an article from the Catholic Spirit, written by CindyWooden for the Catholic News Agency:
“While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said. Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods.
The Vatican released Sept. 8 the texts of two papal documents, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge”) for the Latin-rite church and “Mitis et misericors Iesus,” (“The Meek and Merciful Jesus”) for the Eastern Catholic churches. The changes, including the option of a brief process without the obligatory automatic appeal, go into effect Dec. 8, the opening day of the Year of Mercy. The rules for the Latin and Eastern churches are substantially the same since the differences in texts refer mainly to the different structures of the hierarchy with Latin churches having bishops and Eastern churches having eparchs and patriarchs.
Pope Francis said the changes in the annulment process were motivated by “concern for the salvation of souls,” and particularly “charity and mercy” toward those who feel alienated from the church because of their marriage situations and the perceived complexity of the church’s annulment process. The new rules replace canons 1671-1691 of the Code of Canon Law and canons 1357-1377 of the Eastern code. Pope Francis also provided a set of “procedural regulations” outlining how his reforms are to take place, encouraging bishops in small dioceses to train personnel who can handle marriage cases and spelling out specific conditions when a bishop can issue a declaration of nullity after an abbreviated process.
Those conditions include: when it is clear one or both parties lacked the faith to give full consent to a Catholic marriage; when the woman had an abortion to prevent procreation; remaining in an extramarital relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately afterward; one partner hiding knowledge of infertility, a serious contagious disease, children from a previous union or a history of incarceration; and when physical violence was used to extort consent for the marriage.
The reformed processes were drafted by a special committee Pope Francis established a year earlier. Among the criteria he said guided their work, the first he listed was the possibility of there being “only one executive sentence in favor of nullity” when the local bishop or judge delegated by him had the “moral certainty” that the marriage was not valid. Previously an appeal was automatic and a declaration of nullity had to come from two tribunals. Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, a Vatican court, and president of the commission that drafted the new rules, told reporters that Pope Francis asked for updates throughout the year, sought a review by four “great canonists” not involved in the drafting and in the end adopted the changes with “great seriousness, but also great serenity.” In fact, Pope Francis ordered that the “gratuity of the procedure be assured so that, in a matter so closely tied to the salvation of souls, the church — by demonstrating to the faithful that she is a generous mother — may demonstrate the gratuitous love of Christ, which saves us all.”
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, who also was a member of the commission, insisted the pope’s new rules were not about “annulling marriages,” but about recognizing and declaring the nullity of a marriage, in other words, declaring that it never existed as a valid sacrament. Msgr. Alejandro Bunge, secretary of the commission and a member of the Roman Rota, said the new processes are motivated by recognition of the church as a “field hospital,” as Pope Francis has described it. “For those who have special injuries —a marriage null from the beginning—we will have intensive care” in the form of more rapid annulment procedures. While many marriage cases will continue to require time in order to arrive at the truth, he said, the longer procedure will be reserved to those cases in which it is not obvious that the marriage was null from the beginning and in which the couple does not agree that a real marriage never existed.
The Metropolitan Tribunal staff of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be examining and further studying the texts and changes, Father Timothy Cloutier, the tribunal’s judicial vicar, told The Catholic Spirit Sept. 8. “These changes in procedures of marriage nullity cases should also be made with an intensified and better articulated catechesis on Christian marriage,” he said, “that begins much sooner than is currently the practice— that is, when fiancés come to the parish with their wedding date already set.””
Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God bless us with His great Mercy!