AUSTRALIA’S bishops have “warmly and joyfully” welcomed Pope Francis’ recent reforms to the Church’s marriage annulment process.
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Canon Law made the comment in explanatory notes it prepared on the Pope’s reforms.
The commission said clergy and laity had also welcomed the reforms, which the Pope announced on September 9.
Pope Francis said the Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry.
The changes, including the option of a brief process without the obligatory automatic appeal, take effect from December 8, the opening day of the Year of Mercy.
The Pope provided a set of “procedural regulations” outlining how his reforms were to take place, encouraging bishops in small dioceses to train personnel who can handle marriage cases and spelling out specific conditions when a bishop can issue a declaration of nullity after an abbreviated process.
Those conditions included: when it was clear one or both parties lacked the faith to give full consent to a Catholic marriage; when the woman had an abortion to prevent procreation; remaining in an extramarital relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately afterward; one partner hiding knowledge of infertility, a serious contagious disease, children from a previous union or a history of incarceration; and when physical violence was used to extort consent for the marriage.
The Australian Bishops’ Commission for Canon Law said the reforms represented a change in procedure, not in Church teaching.
Some of the changes with the Church’s Tribunal included:
- l People will be able to have their local Tribunal hear their case, whereas before there were restrictions as to which Tribunal would have the responsibility, perhaps interstate or even in another country.
- l The process will be simpler in that there will be several formats to follow with less intrusive questioning.
- l In most cases, the final decision will be made locally without recourse to another Tribunal.
- l Lay people have the possibility of much greater involvement and responsibility in the decision-making process.
- l Most Tribunals in the past have asked for a partial financial contribution from people. Pope Francis asks that provided there is adequate provision for the operating of the Tribunal, the service would be free of charge. This will involve discussions within the Church at various levels.
- l Tribunals will need time to adapt to what is required in all of this and there will be a lead-in time for the changes to take full effect.
- In an interview with ABC Radio’s The World Today,
- Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the changes
- demonstrated “the Pope’s essentially pastoral concern for
- people who were going through, inevitably, a very rough
- time, and the Church doesn’t want to make it any rougher”.
- Francine Pirola, of SmartLoving, an Australian group
- specialising in the support and enrichment of marriage,
- said the Pope’s announcement was “a compassionate
- response to a situation that causes a great deal of pain
- and stress”.
Mrs Pirola said it offered compassion without compromising the Church’s teaching on life-long marriage.