Pope Francis has streamlined canonical procedures for marriage annulment in a Motu Proprio, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (Clement Judge, Pastor of our souls). He has also issued a separate Motu Proprio for the Eastern Rite churches, “Mitis et misercors Iesus” (Clement and Merciful Jesus).
The Holy Father said it was his concern for the salvation of souls that remains his shared supreme objective with brother bishops, as “they share with him the task of the Church to protect unity in faith and in discipline regarding marriage, the cornerstone and origin of the Christian family”.
“The drive to reform has been fuelled by the enormous number of faithful who, while wishing to be at peace with their conscience, are too often separated from the legal structures of the Churches due to physical or moral distance. Charity and mercy therefore require the same Church, as a mother, to be closer to her children who consider themselves separated.”
The reforms cover key areas:
- A single judgement in favour of executive nullity;
- A single judge under the responsibility of the bishop;
- A shorter procedure: Aside from streamlining processes for the declaration of nullity, a form of shorter process is designated – in addition to the current documentary procedure – to be applied in cases where the alleged nullity of the marriage is supported by particularly clear arguments; and
- That the processes are free of cost.
Most Reverend Robert McGuckin DD MCL JCL, Bishop of Toowoomba and Chair of the Australian Bishops Conference Commission for Canon Law, explained, “It’s not that it will do away with the teaching of marriage, but that it will be compassionate in the way we interpret, and indeed in the way we try to assist people to have their status sorted out rapidly within the Church”.
The changes come into place in December and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is preparing resources before the time of implementation within Australia.