Pope Francis and Annulment Procedures
ProLifeCorner- By Larry Plachno-
Numerous people are confused and are asking question about the forthcoming new annulment procedures. Much of this is due to the misinformation put out by the secular media who really do not understand what they are talking about and presumably do not care what they say. While the new procedures do not go into effect until late this year, and a lot still needs to be done on the local levels, here is some of the basics about what is going on.
First and foremost, the Church is not changing any rules, requirements and regulations on marriage in spite of what you might read in the secular newspapers. What is changing are the procedures for obtaining a “decree of nullity,” commonly known as an annulment. This does not change any of the requirements for the validity of a Catholic marriage nor the reasons for obtaining a degree of nullity. But the new procedures will make the process faster, simpler and possibly less expensive.
Pope Francis mentioned that this idea came from a 2014 Synod of Bishops. Several of the bishops present spoke about a common problem with members of their flock being unable to fully participate in church because they had gone through a divorce and were either awaiting or afraid to ask for a degree of nullity. Some of them were being punished for something that might not have been their fault and others were drifting away from the Church because of the time and cost involved.
On Tuesday, September 8, 2015, Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters outlining changes in the declaration of nullity process. One letter deals with procedures in the Latin Catholic Church while the second letter deals with procedures in the Eastern Churches. They take effect on December 8, 2015, the start of the Jubilee and Year of Mercy.
There are probably several reasons behind this but three are immediately obvious. First, the coming Jubilee of Mercy stresses the ability to reconcile with a forgiving God. Hence, it is a good time to improve procedures and encourage people to take action if they have been divorced.
A second reason is reflected by the concern of the bishops that any delay moves people away from the Church. Moving ahead faster with a decree of nullity would keep people in the Church or help move them back.
The third reason is that demographics suggest that people who attend church regularly are more likely to be married or support marriage. Hence, giving people an opportunity to heal from a broken previous marriage and the opportunity to again enter marriage in the Church brings them back into the Church and its related activities.
Perhaps the best way to explain this is to start out by mentioning that there is both a civil and Catholic aspect to a Catholic marriage. A civil divorce recognizes the fact that a civil marriage took place and terminates that marriage. The individuals were civilly married and their children born during the time of that marriage were legitimate.
Totally different is the fact that there are several requirements for a valid Catholic marriage. If your marriage fails, you can apply to the Church to look at the circumstances surrounding the marriage, and things that may have happened both before and after the wedding date. This does require that you provide information on yourself and your marriage. If the investigators find that one or more requirements for a Catholic marriage were missing, they will issue a “declaration of nullity” that some people call an annulment. What it means is that the conditions for a valid Catholic marriage were not met and that a Catholic marriage did not exist. You would then be free to receive the sacraments and marry in the Church.
What are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage? Some are very obvious while others are more complex. If you have questions, you need to talk with someone who is an expert in this area and probably start with your parish priest. Some of the obvious and logical requirements include the fact that the marriage must take place before a properly delegated minister and two witnesses. Both the bride and groom must be willing to have children. There is also a need for consent to marry – a forced or a “shotgun marriage” would not qualify. The malicious concealment of information such as infertility, a contagious disease, previous children or an incarceration can also be grounds for a declaration of nullity as would a marriage made to immigrate or gain an inheritance.
What procedures are being changed? With the Latin or Western Church, Pope Francis had 21 canons in the Code of Canons re-written. In general, they tend to simplify and speed up procedures for investigating and determining whether a valid Catholic marriage existed. Some of the procedural changes are small while others are more involved. Here are some of the more important ones.
- The decision of only one tribunal is required for a judgment of nullity If the application is uncontested. In the past it was standard procedure to appeal the initial decision to a second court and only if the second court agreed was a declaration of nullity issued. Eliminating the second court will save considerable time in the procedure.
- The Bishop will become more active as the principal judge in the diocese with these new procedures. While others have always assisted him, the new procedures establish the bishop himself as a judge in marriage cases. He now assumes greater responsibility as shepherd of the faithful and as a pastor.
- Involvement of the bishop also creates a new, shorter process. Traditionally, there have been two processes. A fairly simple one involves presenting a document that showed the invalidity of the marriage – such as marriage outside the Church. The more complex one involves the formal process of gathering and weighing testimony. Now there is a third, middle, alternative procedure involving the bishop where the evidence for nullity is particularly clear and the formal process is not required.
- An applicant can make an appeal to the metropolitan If he or she is unhappy with the judgment of the bishop. For those who don’t know, a metropolitan is the bishop (or often an archbishop) who heads the local ecclesiastical province. For those in the Rockford Diocese, your metropolitan would be the archbishop of Chicago.
In addition to all of the above, it was the wish of Pope Francis that this process to obtain a declaration of nullity should be less costly and possibly even free. He was quoted as saying the sacraments of the Church should be free and that this falls into that same category. Several bishops have commented that many people have put off asking for a declaration of nullity because they could not afford the fees. In the past, most of the dioceses charged a fee to help offset the cost of the time and effort in this investigation. Hence, this fee may be reduced or even eliminated entirely.
Bear in mind that this is a new procedure and it may be a while before details are worked out at the diocese level. But the above should give you some expectations on where things are going and how the procedures will change. I have already heard from people who plan to take advantage of these new procedures.
Editors Note: Larry Plachno is a successful businessman, publisher, author, and composer of an incalculable number of articles relating to family, life issues and associated problems and solutions. This barely scratches the surface of what Larry really is. His love of God, family and country is inspiring.
For years now Larry has shared his writings with us here at the ProLifeCorner and we are truly humbled by his generosity.
Larry is also an ardent blogger and is a prolific writer. You can follow his work at: www.unselfish.org