On September 8, Pope Francis radically reformed the annulment process for Catholics who wish to void their marriages in the eyes of the church – a process that was previously deemed too difficult and too costly for many members of the church. The changes were announced this week in two Motu Proprio documents, which mean “by (the Pope’s) own initiative” in Latin, but the reforms will not become part of Catholic canon law until December 8 – at the start of what Pope Francis has declared the “Year of Mercy.”
Once the reforms authorized by Pope Francis are enacted, annulments will no longer require a second review by a cleric before nullifying a marriage, the process will be completed within 45 days, and receiving an annulment will be free aside from a nominal fee to cover administrative expenses. Furthermore, Catholic bishops will be able to speed up the process and grant annulments themselves in some cases, particularly where there has been an affair or domestic abuse.
Although the Pope wants annulment to be a more accessible option for Catholics seeking to separate from their spouse, he also reaffirmed the “indissolubility of the marriage bond” and stated that the church and its laws must work towards “the salvation of souls.” However, that doesn’t mean divorced or separated Catholics should be shunned. In the documents released Tuesday, he explained that “charity and mercy demand that the Church, as mother, be close to her children who consider themselves separated.”
The decision to simplify the annulment process is Pope Francis’ most recent move in a series of reforms designed to help the church serve the needs of Catholics around the world. Last month, Pope Francis urged the church to embrace its divorced and remarried members, who have historically been marginalized and prevented from receiving Holy Communion unless they receive annulments.