Pope Francis on Tuesday announced new reforms to the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process, changes that are designed to speed up and simplify the often lengthy procedure.
The announcement, which will make it easier for Catholics to remarry, comes about a month before a major meeting at the Vatican, where Catholic leadership will examine the church’s views on family issues, including divorce and remarriage.
The changes, according to the National Catholic Reporter, will eliminate a requirement that all annulment decisions get a second judgement and will allow local bishops to expedite the annulment process for some cases.
The reforms were announced in two Apostolic Letters from Francis, which, translated from their Latin titles, are called “The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus” and “The Meek and Merciful Jesus.” They were presented at a press conference at the Vatican on Tuesday.
Current Catholic teaching on marriage doesn’t recognize divorce. Catholics who are granted a civil divorce and then remarry are ineligible to take communion, a key part of active Catholic life. Instead, a Catholic who wants to end his or her marriage must be granted an annulment, a process that many Catholics believe is too costly and complicated.
In a recent Pew poll, 62 percent of American Catholics said the church should allow divorced Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment to receive communion.
An annulment is granted by a Catholic tribunal if it agrees that a marriage originally thought to be valid was actually missing at least one crucial element from the start, meaning that it was never really a true marriage. The length of the process varies between dioceses, but can take 12 to 18 months, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Pope Francis has spoken before of his desire to reform annulment in the past.
“The sacraments give us grace,” he said earlier this year to jurists of the church’s final court of appeals for annulments. “And a marriage proceeding” — like an annulment — “touches on the sacrament of marriage.”
“How I wish all marriage proceedings were free of charge!” he added.
In August, Francis urged Catholic clergy to keep “open doors” and be more welcoming to divorced and remarried Catholics.
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