Pope Francis Announces Marriage Reforms
Last week, the Pope made one of the Catholic Church’s most significant announcements of the last three hundred years – they are making reforms to their marriage annulment legislation.
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong commitment and doesn’t recognise divorce. This means that if the marriage wasn’t annulled and someone in the relationship goes on to remarry, that person is considered an adulterer. And because adultery is considered a sin, this person will no longer be allowed to receive communion.
However, a couple can have their marriage annulled if they can show that they shouldn’t have been married in the first place, or if someone has broken the vows. For example, if it were shown that one person in the marriage had an extramarital affair, had an abortion, or if one of the couple lacked religious faith.
Before the reforms, a couple seeking annulment would have to get the approval of two church authorities. They could also be likely to have to travel quite far to attend meetings with these authorities. Overall, the process can become very time-consuming, as well as cost a lot of money.
But the new changes are intended to make marriage annulments both fast-tracked and more affordable for all of the parties involved.
Pope Francis made it clear in his announcement last Tuesday that the reforms do not represent a shift in the Church’s teachings. They are simply a way of helping people move on with their lives sooner, and not have to spend so much money while they do it.
For a start, couples will only have to seek permission from one church authority from now on. The trials should also be free, according to the Pope, and decided locally, overall making the process much simpler.
Bishops will also be given more responsibilities to help in the matter, creating a new panel of judges to decide whether the “nullity of marriage” is sufficient enough to warrant an annulment.
In August of last year, a special commission of 11 members of the Catholic Church was appointed to advance proposals on this specific topic.
The head of this commission is Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Church’s highest judicial court, the Roman Rota. He acknowledged that it wouldn’t be easy to implement the changes.
“It is not excluded that there could be resistance,” he noted, adding that the last time substantial amendments to the marriage legislation were made was back when Benedict XIV was Pope in the 18th century.
The changes were actually signed in August, but were only announced last week with two papal decrees – official papers from the Pope – know as motu proprio.
In the first motu proprio, Pope Francis wrote that the Church still doesn’t condone the annulment of marriages. However, it does favour speeding up the trials, “so that the hearts of those faithful waiting for clarification of their status, are not oppressed by the darkness of doubt”.
Bishops will also be debating the role of the family in the Church in October for the Synod of the Family, and discussing whether divorced and remarried Catholics will be able to take communion in the future. As we explained before, at the moment these people are considered adulterers, and so they are not currently allowed to receive communion.
These are not the only changes to legislation and attitude that Pope Francis has brought in. Just last week, he announced that the Church was easing its stance on those who have an abortion. Local priests will now be allowed to forgive these members of their flock, if they repent during the upcoming Jubilee. This is the Holy Year of Mercy, which begins in December.
Last year, the Pope revealed that the Church agrees with the theory of evolution and the Big Bang, though both require the existence of a creator to have happened. He said that any thoughts to the contrary were encouraged by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.