Warm welcome for promised reform

Canon lawyers have welcomed sweeping changes to the process by which the Church grants marriage annulments, following Pope Francis’ issuing of reforms this week.

The changes will streamline the process and mean that the need for all cases to be reviewed automatically has been scrapped, meaning judgments should take no longer than a year.

Bishops are also given the power to declare a marriage null where the evidence is not in doubt and both parties to the marriage are in agreement.

Fr Albert McDonnell, associate Judicial Vicar of the Galway Regional Marriage Tribunal, told The Irish Catholic the Pope’s reforms “reflect the vision the current Pope has brought to his ministry”.

“Mercy is a theme the Pope returns to constantly, and is the theme of the coming Holy Year,” he told The Irish Catholic.

According to Fr McDonnell, “it’s noticeable that it comes into force on December 8, the first day of the ‘Year of Mercy’”.

Citing how last year’s Synod of Bishops on the family had seen the bishops ask that Church tribunals be more user-friendly, Fr McDonnell said new procedures should speed up the annulment experience for the faithful.

“The Pope makes reference to the fact that people shouldn’t be obliged to live in a state of uncertainty regarding the status of their marriage and regarding their own position in the Church community,” he said, explaining that it will no longer be mandatory for decrees of nullity from local tribunals to be followed by appeals, and that a “quite innovative shorter process will be available to couples where the nullity of marriages is particularly evident”.

Fr McDonnell believes changes are intended to help people and “will certainly do that”, while repeating a number of times that the sacred nature and importance of the marital bond is in no way undermined by these changes

Stressing that the changes “will be of huge assistance for people who find themselves in marital relationships that have broken down and for whom involvement in the life of the Church is important”, Fr McDonnell said that the changes are a very good example of the kind of reform Pope Francis is trying to introduce. 

“As is so often the case with this Pope, it doesn’t change anything with regard to the substance of Church teaching, but does make it easier to live out,” he said