Pope Francis yesterday made it easier, quicker and free for Catholics to have their marriages annulled under reforms regarded with suspicion by conservatives who fear he may be opening the door to Church-approved divorce. Details of changes to a system that critics, including Pope Francis, himself had attacked as needlessly bureaucratic, expensive and unfair were unveiled yesterday with the publication of a papal letter on the issue to Catholic churches across the world.
In it, the Argentine pontiff says annulments will henceforth require only one decision rather than having to be approved by two church tribunals, as currently.
A streamlined procedure is to be introduced with most cases to be handled by individual bishops rather than subject to a hearings process. Appeals to a Vatican court against individual annulments will still be possible, but will become the exception not the rule.
The Pope’s letter follows a year-long review by experts in canon, or religious, law. It also asks bishops conferences to ensure there are no costs involved in the process of securing an annulment.
While Pope Francis is seeking to democratise the procedure in a way that would appear to make an increase in the number of annulments likely, his letter does not amend the exceptional conditions under which they can be granted.
In his letter, he strongly reaffirms the principle of the indissolubility of marriage while highlighting the “enormous number of believers” for whom annulment is currently not an option for various reasons.
Although the notion of marriage being for life is one of the fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith, divorce has become commonplace among believers across much of the industrialised world.
Church doctrine allows for unions to be cancelled — effectively declared to have never existed — when the marriage is judged to have been fundamentally flawed from the outset.
Without an annulment, a Catholic who divorces and remarries is deemed to be living in sin and is unable to take communion.
Critics say this exclusion of the divorced from the Church’s holiest sacrament is cruel and unfair. Why, they argue, should a murderer who confesses his sins be able to take communion while a woman who seeks a divorce to escape a violent relationship cannot. — Reuters.