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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