Marriage annulment to be easy and cheap
POPE Francis has revolutionised the procedure for Catholics to get marriage annulments, making them faster and simpler and calling on bishops to provide greater help to divorced couples.
The most substantial changes to Catholic marriage annulment procedures in centuries again showed the Pontiff's desire for the church to be more merciful to Catholics who are in difficulty.
However, the 1.2 billion-member church does not recognise divorce and last night the Pope faced calls for more to be done to help Catholics whose marriages have failed.
In a document known as a 'motu proprio', Latin for 'by his own initiative', Pope Francis has reaffirmed traditional teaching on the "indissolubility of marriage".
But he streamlined procedures that many considered cumbersome, lengthy, outdated and expensive.
The Pope said the procedures, which can cost thousands of euro in legal fees, should be free.
He is also giving bishops sweeping powers to judge quickly the most clear-cut cases themselves.
An annulment, formally known as a 'decree of nullity', is a ruling that a marriage was not valid in the first place, according to church law.
However, many couples and priests have complained that the current complex procedures discourage even those with legitimate grounds for an annulment from trying to obtain one.
Pope Francis also specified that bishops should show "particular pastoral concern" for divorced and remarried Catholics.
This has been interpreted as a signal that the Pope is seeking to reach out pastorally to Catholics affected by marriage breakdown.
Dr John Murray, a moral theologian and director of the pro-marriage Iona Institute, said that what the Pope was announcing was a limited measure.
"It will probably not help Catholics who are validly married and who unfortunately are in trouble with their relationships," he said.
Patricia Fitzsimons, of the Association of Catholics in Ireland, welcomed the reforms, but added: "The changes do not go far enough. The church needs to recognise that valid marriages fail and people should be allowed remarry."