Pope Francis on Tuesday announced sweeping reforms to streamline marriage annulment – the only avenue Catholics have if they want to marry again without falling foul of Church teachings.
The widely-expected move came ahead of the October Synod – a world summit of bishops – which is due to discuss ways to reconcile the Vatican with modern lifestyles, possibly softening its stance towards homosexuals and remarried divorcees.
Under the new rules, marriages will be declared void after one ruling from a church tribunal, usually chaired by the local bishop. In the old set-up, such decisions had to be confirmed by an appeals court before coming into force.
Francis also said annulment tribunals should be free “as much as possible,” acknowledging that court officials deserved “just and dignified” compensation. He has also introduced fast-track procedures to deal with less controversial cases.
Catholic marriages can be annulled for a number of reasons – for example, if one of the spouses does not want children, if the marriage was used to circumvent migration laws or if the bride or the groom were forced into it.
Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, the top appeals body in marriage annulment cases, said the reforms introduced by Francis were the most wide-ranging since the time of Pope Benedict XIV, who ruled in the 18th century.