Pope Francis issued two documents today that bring significant changes to the process of getting an annulment in the Catholic Church. The changes came based upon recommendations from an 11 member committee the pope formed to examine what changes could be made to the annulment process. The changes take effect on December 8, 2015, at the beginning of the year of mercy.
Even before the announcement made by the Vatican today, changes to the process were anticipated. The changes made by the pope to the process are designed to make the process shorter, more accessible and simpler. The changes do not reflect a significant change in Church doctrine about marriage and divorce.
Simply put, the changes concern the cost of annulments (the expectation is that they are now free), the elimination of the automatic appeal when the annulment is granted in the first court, and greater ability for local bishops and bishops’ conferences to act on their own in marriage cases, without the need for using the Vatican Tribunal.
The document, called a motu proprio, a phrase meaning on his own impulse, is a direction that comes from the pope himself. The document is titled Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, or “The Lord Jesus, the gentle judge”, is consistent with Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy for this upcoming year. Changes to the annulment process had been long sought, particularly in the United States, where most of the annulments in the world are granted.