Pope Francis announces biggest changes to annulment process in centuries
From: Washington Post
Date: Sept. 8, 2015
Author: Abby Ohlheiser, Michelle Boorstein, and Sarah Pulliam Bailey
“It’s a sweeping reform; it’s a dramatic reform,” said Chad Pecknold, a theologian at Catholic University. “It’s a reform which essentially takes away the whole judicial process for deciding whether a marriage was null or not.”
Another change will reduce the process of that first tribunal down to one judge, Pecknold noted. Formerly, a tribunal consisted of at least two priests and one canon lawyer, who could be a layman or cleric.
Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at Catholic University, said the expedited process would apply to Catholic couples facing certain conditions, including those who have an abortion, a grave contagious disease, children from a previous relationship or imprisonment. Essentially, Martens said, the church is providing a path that looks like the Catholic version of no-fault divorce.
The changes move the church away from a set of 18th-century safeguards meant to make sure that the annulment process wasn’t subject to abuse, Martens said. Those changes, set up by Pope Benedict XIV, included a provision that would require a mandatory appeal of the lower court’s decision.
“What guarantee do you have for a fair trial if you take away those guarantees that were put in the past?” Martens said. “Sometimes you want to go so quickly, you miss elements and make mistakes. Procedure law takes time to unfold.”
Martens said the way Francis changed the annulment process was unusual, because he did not go through the Synod on the Family, as expected, in October.
“If I were a bishop, I would be upset,” Martens said. “It’s a bit strange and even a sign of contradiction that a pope who is big on consultation and collegiality seems to forget that on something like this. It’s highly unusual for legislation like this to get through that way.”