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Vatican to Announce Annulment Reforms on Tuesday

AP Photo/L'Ossservatore Romano, Pool
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Pope Francis expected to streamline annulment process

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is to release two papal decrees tomorrow reforming the annulments process, the Vatican announced today.

The Vatican announced a major midday press conference will be held Tuesday, September 8, to present the two letters issued motu proprio by Pope Francis “on the reform of the canonical process for causes of the declaration of the nullity of marriage.”

The two decrees, entitled Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus, lay out reforms to the Latin Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. They are expected to streamline the annulment process.

Six high-ranking prelates will be on hand at Tuesday’s press conference: Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota and President of the special Commission for the reform of the canonical marriage process; His Eminence Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and member of the special Commission; His Excellently Dimitrios Salachas, Apostolic Exarch of Athens for the Byzantine-rite Greek Catholics and member of the special Commission; Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Member of the special Commission; Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge, Prelate Auditor of the Roman Rota and Secretary of the special Commission; and Rev. Fr. Nikolaus Schöch, OFM, Substitute Promoter of Justice of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and the Secretary of the Special Commission.

Sources close to the Vatican suggest Pope Francis is issuing the two letters well in advance of the upcoming Synod on the Family because he doesn’t want the October meeting of bishops to be bogged down over whether reforms of the annulment process should be carried out, but wants instead to move forward on actually enacting them.

The letters are not expected directly to address the question of granting admittance to Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried.

Tuesday Morning Update:

Following the midday press conference in Rome on Tuesday, Vatican Radio published the following explanatory notes on the two papal decrees outlining the changes Pope Francis has made in the annulment process:

“According to the prefatory remarks attached to both Letters, the reforms are the result of an expert group appointed to study the current state of law and practice in the Church as far as marriage law is concerned. The Holy Father goes on in the preface to explain that the reforms are guided by seven specific criteria, ample excerpts of which Vatican Radio offers below in its own unofficial English translation:

That there be only one sentence in favor of executive nullity – It appeared opportune, in the first place, that there no longer be required a twofold decision in favor of marital nullity, in order that the parties be admitted to new canonically valid marriages: the moral certainty reached by the first judge according to law should be sufficient.

A single judge under the responsibility of the Bishop – The constitution of a single judge in the first instance, who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee that no laxity be indulged in this matter.

The Bishop is judge – In order that the teaching of the II Vatican Council be finally translated into practice in an area of great importance, the decision was made to make evident the fact that the Bishop is, in his Church – of which he is constituted pastor and head – is by that same constitution judge among the faithful entrusted to him. It is desired that, in Dioceses both great and small, the Bishop himself should offer a sign of the conversion of ecclesiastical structures, and not leave the judicial function completely delegated to the offices of the diocesan curia, as far as matters pertaining to marriage are concerned.

Increased brevity in the legal process – In fact, beyond making the marriage annulment process more agile, a briefer form of trying nullity cases has been designed – in addition to the documentary process already approved and in use – which is to be applied in cases in which the accusation of marital nullity is supported by particularly evident arguments. In any case, the extent to which an abbreviated process of judgment might put the principle of the indissolubility of marriage at risk, did not escape me [writes Pope Francis – ed.]: thus, I have desired that, in such cases the Bishop himself shall be constituted judge, who, by force of his pastoral office is with Peter the greatest guarantor of Catholic unity in faith and in discipline.

Appeal to the Metropolitcan See – It is fitting that the appeal to the Metropolitan See be re-introduced, since that office of headship of an Ecclesiastical province, stably in place through the centuries, is a distinctive sign of the synodality of the Church.

The proper role of the Bishops’ Conferences – The Bishops’ Conferences, which must be driven above all by the anxious apostolic desire to reach the far-off faithful, should formally recognize the duty to share the aforesaid conversion, and respect absolutely the right of the Bishops to organize judicial power each within his own particular Church.

There-establishment of vicinity between the judge and the faithful, in fact, shall not be successful if the stimulus does not come from the Conferences to the single Bishops, along with the necessary assistance, to put into practice the reform of the marital nullity process.

Appeal to the Apostolic See – It is fitting that the appeal to the ordinary Tribunal of the Apostolic See, i.e. the Roman Rota, be maintained: this, in respect of a most ancient juridical principle, so that the bond between the See of Peter and the particular Churches be reinforced – having care, in any case, in the discipline of the use of said appeal, to contain any and all abuse of right, in order that the salvation of souls be given no cause for harm.

Vatican Radio also reported that “the prefatory remarks make clear from the very start, that the single most important principle guiding the Holy Father’s action and the work of reform undertaken, is that of salus animarum – the salvation of souls – which is the suprema Ecclesiae lex – the supreme law of the Church.”

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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