The news today is that tomorrow (Tuesday 8 Sept 2015) Pope Francis will issue changes to Canon Law on the process for obtaining an annulment (a formal declaration from Church authority that a marriage was never the true Sacrament, and so is null and void). Pope to issue decrees on marriage annulment tomorrow (Catholic Herald).
These changes will affect both sets of Canon Law, that for the Latin Rite (the West) and the Code for the East. The reasonable expectation is that the process will become simpler, easier, and will not involve any costs. This change is only of discipline, not doctrine. But I expect that some traditionalists and conservatives will complain that easy annulments suggest an erosion of doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage.
In my previous post, Pope Francis’ October Surprise: 24 Shocking Possibilities, I opined that: “Pope Francis might open up new paths for divorced Catholics to obtain annulments, bypassing the Marriage Tribunals in many cases. For example, after a preliminary examination of the case, he could permit only the signatures of the couple and the parish pastor on a document to declare an annulment.” We do not yet know the details of this decision on annulments. It might not be as simple as I suggested in the quote above. But everyone expects the process to be simplified and quicker.
Conservatives might be encouraged by this news, since an easier process for annulments might weigh against allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. Some of these couples, perhaps many, could now obtain an annulment and ratify their current union, thereby permitting them to receive Communion under the usual rules.
On the other hand, the Synod might also permit divorced and remarried persons to receive Communion. And such a decision would be severely criticized by many on the right.
I’ll comment further once we know the details of the changes to Canon Law. In my opinion, annulments should not cost any money, should not require excessive time or paperwork, but should only be available in clear cases of an invalid Sacrament of Marriage. Fallen sinners that we are, the process for annulments is never going to be perfect.
UPDATED: See this news report issued 8 Sept 2015. The Pope has streamlined the process of annulments by taking away the need for a second judgment in a second diocese, and by allowing the local Bishop, in some cases, to issue a judgment by his own authority. He has also decided that the process shall be free of cost.
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