Pope speeds up, simplifies process for marriage annulments

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Pope Francis Calls for an End to Excommunication for Divorced Couples

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis radically reformed the Catholic Church's process for annulling marriages Tuesday, allowing for fast-track decisions and removing automatic appeals in a bid to speed up and simplify the procedure.

Francis issued a new law overhauling three centuries of church practice, placing the onus squarely on bishops around the world to now determine when a fundamental flaw has made a marriage invalid.

SEE ALSO: Rarely seen bizarre sea creatures spotted by NOAA expedition

Catholics must get a church annulment if they want to remarry in the church. Without it, divorced Catholics who remarry civilly are considered to be adulterers living in sin and are forbidden from receiving Communion - a dilemma at the heart of a debate currently roiling the church that will come to the fore next month at a big meeting of bishops.

The church's annulment process has long been criticized for being complicated, costly and out of reach for many Catholics, especially in poor countries where dioceses don't have marriage tribunals.

"With this fundamental law, Francis has now launched the true start of his reform," said Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, the head of the Roman Rota, the church's marriage court. "He is putting the poor at the center - that is the divorced, remarried who have been held at arms' length - and asking for bishops to have a true change of heart."

Click through to read Pope Francis' most provocative quotes:

11 PHOTOS
10 of Pope Francis’s Most Provocative Quotes
See Gallery
Pope speeds up, simplifies process for marriage annulments

"Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!"

October 8, 2014, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests."

June 28, 2013, on a flight to Rome

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits — but no."

January 19, 2015, on a flight to Rome

(Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

"I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful ... I see the church as a field hospital after battle."

September 30, 2013, interview, America magazine

 (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

"I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation."

October 1, 2013, interview, La Repubblica newspaper

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal."

June 5, 2013, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

"Perhaps you were mad, perhaps plates flew, but please remember this: never let the sun go down without making peace! Never, never, never!"

February 14, 2014, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Do you open your hearts to the memories that your grandparents pass on? Grandparents are like the wisdom of the family, they are the wisdom of a people."

October 26, 2013, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"True love is both loving and letting oneself be loved. It is harder to let ourselves be loved than it is to love." 

January 18, 2015, Manila, Philippines

 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

"Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads ... to those who have quit or are indifferent."

September 30, 2013, interview, America magazine

(AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Reasons for granting annulments vary, including that the couple never intended their marriage to last or that one of the spouses didn't want children.

Francis' biggest reform involves a new fast-track procedure, handled by the local bishop, that can be used when both spouses request an annulment or don't oppose it. It can also be used when other proof makes a more drawn-out investigation unnecessary.

It calls for the process to be completed within 45 days.

The longer, regular process should take no more than a year, officials said.

Another reform is the removal of the appeal that automatically took place after the first decision was made, even if neither spouse wanted it. An appeal is still possible, but if one of the sides requests it - a simplification that was used in the United States for many years.

The reform also allows the local bishop, in places where the normally required three-judge tribunal isn't available, to be the judge himself or to delegate the handling of the cases to a priest-judge with two assistants.

That measure is aimed at providing Catholic couples with recourse to annulments in poorer parts of the world, or places where the church doesn't have the resources or manpower to have fully functioning tribunals.

In the document, Francis insisted that marriage remains an indissoluble union and that the new regulations aren't meant to help to end them. Rather, he said, the reform is aimed at speeding up and simplifying the process so that the faithful can find justice.

The overall aim of the reform, he said, "is the salvation of souls."

"It is a democratizing move focused on easing the course of reintegration into the church for women, in particular," said Candida Moss, professor of Biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame. "His actions are propelled by compassion and pragmatism: He recognizes the dangers of spousal abuse and the reality that many modern marriages are undertaken without full consideration."

Significantly, the reform places much more importance on the local bishop in handling marriage cases and reducing the need for recourse to the Vatican's own courts - part of Francis' overall reform of the Catholic Church itself to decentralize power back to local bishops, as was the case in the early church.

The reform, which was the result of a yearlong study by canonists, is the second major initiative Francis has taken in as many weeks that will have reverberations in the United States, where Francis will visit later this month.

Last week, he said he was letting all rank-and-file priests grant absolution to women who have had abortions -an initiative for the upcoming Year of Mercy that has had significant impact in a country where the abortion debate is a pressing political issue.

Nearly half of the total annulment cases in the world come from the United States, thanks in part to its well-functioning tribunal system. The new reforms might speed up the U.S. numbers further, though the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University has noted that the overall number of annulment cases in the U.S. and globally has dropped, as the world's population ages and the number of marriages celebrated in the church has declined.

Already, some conservatives have criticized Francis' abortion initiative as running the risk that some might misinterpret it as a softening on the church's opposition to abortion. Conservatives have also warned that simplifying the annulment procedure could imply the church is making it easier for couples to essentially get a "Catholic divorce."

Francis has long called for the church to be less legalistic and more merciful and understanding of the needs of its flock.


More on AOL.com:
Planned Parenthood faces unexpected challenge from Obamacare
Tropical Storm Grace expected to weaken to depression
Greece picks up nearly 500 migrants overnight

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners