Continuing his modernization of the Catholic church, Pope Francis announced on Tuesday, September 8 that there would be a major change in the Catholic annulment process, making it easier for married couples to separate and remarry in the church.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the new rules are the third major set of changes applying to Catholic annulments in the past 250 years. The new rules, released by the Vatican, were made in response to many complaints that the church’s process for annulling a marriage was too complicated, lengthy, and costly.
The Catholic church still does not permit divorce, and according to Business Insider, the pope said that these new rules “would not encourage or ‘favour’ the nullifying of marriage.” Instead, the changes are meant to speed up the process of receiving an annulment, and eliminating the cost that Catholic churches have been imposing on those seeking an annulment.
An annulment, by definition, is the nullification of a marriage which states that the union was never valid, thereby “erasing” the marriage from existence, so to speak. Common reasons for annulments include lack of consent, psychological immaturity, and purposely lying to one’s partner about a fundamental aspect of the union (such as being unable to have children).
The pope’s ruling was based on a year of research and research by a papal advisory committee. The biggest changes include: an annulment may be granted without two reviews from church courts; elimination of the annulment fee; and a “fast-track” option allowing a local bishop to grant an annulment in less than two months.
U.S. bishops concluded at a nationwide conference that the church’s annulment process usually takes between 12 and 18 months, although the WSJ referenced one Vatican news conference where panel secretary and papal adviser Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge stated that the annulment process lasts “no less than two, maybe five, and sometimes 10 years.”
The new changes are expected to resonate soundly within the U.S., where Catholics are anxiously awaiting the Pope’s impending visit this coming fall. American couples make up 40% of the world’s annulment requests and an estimated 10% of the U.S. population has been divorced at least once.
The announcement came just days after Pope Francis stated that priests would have the temporary ability to grant forgiveness to women who have received abortions.