This week Pope Francis issued two Motu Proprios (declarations issued “of his own will”) that simplify the process for getting a marriage annulment. Some have voiced concern over the perceived ease with which marriages can now be annulled. Canonists, meanwhile, are wondering how to implement the new procedure in just three months while fielding calls from concerned Catholics. To better understand the changes it is necessary to have a good grasp of what makes a marriage null in the eyes of the church, and what goes into getting a declaration of nullity.
Some key things to keep in mind:
In the annulment process the church does not dissolve a marriage, but investigates whether it was ever valid. That means goes back to the beginning and looking into how it began.
Fees: Pope Francis has said he wants the process to be free. Several dioceses already offer the service free of charge, while others have a “suggested donation” for the service. (Just as there is a “suggested donation” to the parish when a couple gets married). The reality is maintaining a marriage tribunal office involves some basic costs: lights, paper, photocopies and staff. In some parts of the world marriage tribunals do have set, non-negotiable prices for hearing annulment cases. That is what Pope Francis is trying to eliminate.
Some media reported that annulments will take 30 to 45 days to process. Fr. Andrew Laschuk of the Toronto Regional Marriage Tribunal told Salt and Light only a small percentage of cases - those where it is blatantly obvious the marriage was invalid- will have such short processing time.
The new rules take effect December 8. Cases judged before then will follow the old rules. Cases judged after that date, even if they were submitted before, will go through the new process.
Here are some useful links for understanding the whole issue:
The Diocese of Madison has already put together this list of FAQs about the new annulment process, including what steps a case will go through after December 8. Click here to find out everything there is to know about the new procedure from “how to begin” to “does the other spouse need to be involved.”
Perhaps the biggest question: how does someone start the process of getting an annulment?
According to Fr. Laschuk the first step is “talk to your pastor.” If for any reason that is not possible, call your local marriage tribunal directly.
CNS photo/Paul Haring
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