On Sep. 8, Pope Francis made sweeping changes to the process by which Catholics
annul their marriages, streamlining a process that has been long thought
as cumbersome and costly.
The pope's move is one of a series of anticipated reforms aimed at
making the church more flexible and accommodating to meet the needs of
its modern-day members.
If a Catholic doesn't get an annulment and they remarry, he or she
would be forbidden from receiving Holy Communion, what many consider to
be the most important of the seven sacraments.
The Vatican's announcement came weeks before the pope's first-ever
visit to the United States.
CNN reports that of all annulments granted in 2012, about half of those were
for Americans. According to the latest statistics available, there were
nearly 50,000 annulments granted in 2012.
The three major changes announced on Sep. 8 were:
- Eliminates the second review for annulments.
- Under certain circumstances; for example, adultery or spousal abuse, bishops
can fast-track and grant annulments.
- The annulment process should be free, with the exception of nominal administrative
costs and it should be completed within 45 days.
The pope's reform came through two
motu proprio documents (Latin for the pope's own initiative). On Dec. 8, they shall
become part of Catholic canon law, which is the beginning of what Pope
Francis has declared the "Year of Mercy."
In reference to Francis' latest reform, one prominent Catholic priest
called it an act of mercy from a pope who listens carefully to the concerns
of the people.
In the past, Francis has said that the annulment process was too onerous,
that it could drag on for years and cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.
Last year, Francis said that some of the church's procedures were so
long and burdensome.
The General Social Survey found that 28% of Catholic marriages in the United
States end in divorce. Although that number is lower than the general
population, it still amounts to 11 million people.
Annulments are very important in the Catholic religion because if a divorced
Catholic fails to get an annulment and remarry, in the eyes of the church
they are an adulterer, and therefore may not participate in certain sacraments,
such as Holy Communion.
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