Published September 17, 2015
On September 8, 2015, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued an Apostolic Letter reforming the formal annulment process for declaring the nullity of marriage. The reforms mentioned in this letter go in to effect on December 8, 2015. As a result of the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, Pope Francis appointed a committee chaired by the Dean of the Roman Rota. This committee presented him with a draft whose findings were incorporated in his Apostolic Letter and thus received the force of law. Among the reasons cited for reforming the annulment process, our Holy Father mentions his concern for the salvation of the souls and a desire to reincorporate those whose marital status leads them to feel separated from the Church. While still awaiting an authentic translation and the clarification of some points mentioned in the letter, there are a number of issues to which I may refer.
The underlying principle of the indissolubility of marriage remains unchanged. That is, the Church continues to defend marriage as a permanent institution. However, certain important changes have taken place. For example, there will no longer be a necessity for appealing the decision of the Tribunal to a second Tribunal in most circumstances. The Apostolic Letter makes it easier for a Tribunal to accept a case by streamlining the grounds for competence and permitting cases to be heard by a three judge panel, two of whom may be lay judges. In the past, if one of the parties lived outside the country and the marriage did not take place here, there could be difficulties in accepting the case. Now, if one or both parties live here, the Tribunal can accept the case. The Apostolic Letter also outlines the possibility of a streamlined process involving the Bishop when both parties are in agreement in seeking an annulment. This agreement would not be presumed unless the other party to the case explicitly informs the Tribunal in writing within the time period provided by law. A number of other changes also have the effect of streamlining the process, especially in regard to the length of time involved. So that everyone may approach their Tribunal, no fees will be charged as of December 8, 2015.
In a practical sense, my Tribunal will study the Apostolic Letter and make recommendations to me concerning the best fashion in which to implement it.