On September 8, the Holy See released a pair of documents by Pope Francis which reform the way in which the Church handles annulments.
1) What is an annulment? Is it the same thing as a divorce?
A CHURCH annulment (formally known as a “declaration of nullity”) is a ruling that something was so gravely wrong at the time of the wedding that no SACRAMENTAL marriage came into existence. A CIVIL divorce dissolves a CIVIL marriage.
2) Why are annulments an important issue in the Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ expressly taught that if two people divorce and then remarry, they are committing the grave sin of adultery (Mark 10:11-12). Because of this teaching, the Church cannot simply give divorced people permission to remarry. To do so would be to give them permission to commit adultery.
3) How does the annulment process work?
When a man and a woman have divorced, they can contact the appropriate diocese and have their marriage investigated to see if it was valid. This process could be simple or lengthy, depending on the nature of the case and the forms of evidence available. A SACRAMENTAL marriage is only valid if both man and woman were free of coercion and fully capable of fully committing to the union at the time the vows were made. Pregnancy might be one reason a couple felt coerced. Addiction might be one reason a couple was not capable.
4) What has Pope Francis done?
He has issued two motu proprio documents. A motu proprio is somewhat similar to a presidential executive order in that it is issued on the pope’s initiative for the purpose of establishing or clarifying matters of church administration. Just as a presidential executive order is not supposed to create or change federal law, so too does a motu proprio not deal with church doctrine.
5) Why has Pope Francis done this?
He did so out of a desire to make the annulment process more efficient. In many parts of the world, the process has been notoriously slow and difficult.
6) What changes did Pope Francis make to the process?
Unless you’re familiar with the annulment process, you wouldn’t understand the significance of the changes. But if you care, you can read more at the link below. These changes take effect December 8, 2015, which will be the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- My own experiences as a witness in the annulment of a friend’s disastrous marriage.