Pope Francis has made it quicker and simpler for married Catholics to obtain annulments, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The pope’s latest effort to put into practice his conciliatory approach to family issues has unsettled more conservative elements within the church.
The rules released Tuesday by the Vatican, only the third major set of changes to the relevant church law in two-and-a-half centuries, respond to widespread complaints that the annulment process, which can allow divorced Catholics to remarry in the church, is too lengthy and complicated.
One of the most significant changes resembles a temporary policy followed by US bishops in the 1970s, which critics have said amounted to a form of “Catholic divorce”.
That could heighten tensions between the pope and those bishops and laypeople who fear he has let talk of mercy blur church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, was quoted as saying the new rules introduce the equivalent of “no-fault divorce” into the church.
But Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, said the new rules are unlikely to boost the number of requests for annulments, which have been declining as people marry less often.
The Catholic Church doesn’t permit divorce. An annulment, technically known as a “declaration of nullity,” states that a given union was never a valid marriage.
Potential reasons for nullity include bigamy or lack of consent but also more complex conditions, such as psychological immaturity.
The new rules, based on a year’s work by a papal advisory commission, eliminate the requirement that any annulment granted by a church court must be automatically reviewed by another set of judges.
The rules also establish a new “fast-track trial”, to be judged by the local bishop, who can grant an annulment in less than two months.
Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge, secretary of the panel that advised the pope, said at a Vatican news conference that the existing process lasts “no less than two, maybe five, and sometimes 10 years”.
The fast-track option would be available in cases where both parties agree to an annulment and where evidence for the invalidity of the marriage is especially strong.
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