Changes to the Declaration of Nullity Process
On Tuesday, September 8, 2015, Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio (motu proprio means “on one’s own initiative”) outlining changes to the declaration of nullity process, commonly called annulment, which will take effect on December 8, 2015, the start of the Jubilee of Mercy.
One Apostolic Letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, addressed canonical procedures in the Code of Canon Law used by the Latin Catholic Church, while the other, Mitis et Misericors Iesus, addressed procedures in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
The letters were presented at a press conference that included members of a special commission Pope Francis had set up to study the declaration of nullity process. In an article published in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota and President of the special commission, noted that these reforms are only the third time the Church has revised the norms for the declaration of nullity procedure in such a significant way (the others being in 1741 and 1908).
It is important to note that the reforms do not change the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, meaning that marriage lasts until death. Nor do they change the Church’s teaching on not permitting those who have civilly remarried after divorce to receive the Eucharist. Instead, the reforms made by Pope Francis seek to make the declaration of nullity process, which is used to determine whether in fact a valid marriage existed in order to determine whether a person is free to marry in the Catholic Church, more accessible, more efficient, and less expensive or even free. Pope Francis had indicated earlier in a meeting with canon lawyers his desire to streamline the declaration of nullity process, saying, “Some procedures are so long and so burdensome, they don’t favor justice, and people give up” (Nov. 5, 2014).
For more detailed information: Vatican Radio outlined the reforms made by Pope Francis in Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, which can be heard here (audio). A print explanation from Vatican News is available here. A helpful explanation of what the changes do, and don’t do, can be found at the National Catholic Register.