Pope issues major marriage annulment reforms

by Cindy Wooden on Catholic Herald

Pope Francis said he did not want the faithful to be oppressed with the

Pope Francis said he did not want the faithful to be oppressed with the “darkness of doubt”

The reforms could affect thousands of Catholics worldwide

While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said.

Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods.

The Vatican released today the texts of two papal documents, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge”) for the Latin-rite church and “Mitis et misericors Iesus,” (“The Meek and Merciful Jesus”) for the Eastern Catholic churches.

The changes, including the option of a brief process without the obligatory automatic appeal, go into effect on December 8, the opening day of the Year of Mercy. Continue reading…


There will be rejoicing at this news by many of those currently seeking annulments of their marriages, but others in the Church like this blogger are being more cautious, seeing this ‘reform’ as the gateway for The Catholic Divorce to be given its blessing! He reports…

“I have my initial first reactions, but first a few caveats. I am supportive of ‘streamlining the process’ so that undue wait and complexity could be removed as long as the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage was protected.

In the Motu Proprio, Pope Francis several times makes point that these reforms are in no way to mitigate against the indissolubility of marriage, which is good. But I think there is a real danger that these reforms will undermine marriage.

In advance of the issuance of this motu proprio, I said on social media “If the Pope does away with automatic appeals of declarations of nullity, it will do more damage to marriage than the gay marriage movement. Ending in Catholic Divorce.”

Well, the Pope did away with the automatic appeals process and all power is now placed in the Bishop and his appointees. This is so incredibly dangerous and the removal of the automatic appeal will predictably make for considerable mischief in many places, even as the Pope cautions against abuses.

Cautions aside, it is the predictability of what will happen in many places that is at issue. The Pope cautions against abuses, but we know they are inevitable, predictable, and in some places desired. This opens up the possibility of Catholic divorce in many locales.

I have a great deal of concern about this. A great deal. But I must admit that my first impression of the document is rushed and through a translator, so it will take more time to digest and even more time still to see how this is actually implemented. But I have fear that cautions aside, the barn door has just been propped wide open and the horses know it.”


RORATE CAELI has published the English summary of the two Apostolic Letters with the main changes reported by Vatican Radio, and comments below the text:

“Merely to illustrate how much things have changed in just three years: in 2012 the Vatican also had a project to reform some aspects of the canonical process for declarations of nullity. The major difference is that this project had as its aim to tighten, or make stricter, the grounds for granting these declarations — not make these easier to obtain. (Rorate posted about this in May 2012.) One of the driving forces behind this “Ratzingerian” version of annulment reform was Cardinal Burke, whose removal from the Apostolic Signatura in November 2014 was, at the very least, highly convenient for the partisans of annulment simplification.”

Comments and opinions from our readers would be welcome

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26 Responses to Pope issues major marriage annulment reforms

  1. Michael says:

    There’s a good, albeit brief (more to follow soon though) assessment of the reforms at Canon Ed Peters blog here:


    He seems to think that, in terms of giving bishops responsibility to appoint judges, little has actually changed in canon law, and that the removal of mandatory appeal will not be that big a problem as people will still be able to appeal voluntarily if they feel the first trial was not sufficiently rigorous, etc.

    I don’t know enough about the annulment process to assess this for myself, so I am wondering why it is that (especially given what Canon Peters says) that the author at Creative Minority Report is so concerned that the reformed process will be more open to abuses than before. I don’t say that it won’t, or that the author at CMR is wrong – I just can’t see why at present.

    One final thought (re the announcement of this before the Synod) – might these reforms actually make it harder for Kasper et al to push through their proposed changes? After all, if it becomes more straightforward for those seeking a declaration nullity* to have that claim assessed, then it will be harder to use that as an angle from which to plead an actual change in teaching on marriage. Of course, people who are told their previous marriage is valid will still be in the same position, but I imagine the subverters will want to use a ‘difficult’ annulment process as a cloak to have valid marriages dissolved, and it may be harder to do so now (at least from this particular angle).


  2. Feminine But Not Feminist says:

    Ugh. Just… Ugh. :-/


  3. ginnyfree says:

    I won’t be commenting until I’ve read the two documents in their entirety. Only fair. I cannot base what I think on what others say these two documents might say. Since we ARE talking about Pope Francis and the prevailing trend of open ended and often erroneous interpretation of his words I think it prudent to read them for myself and think about what they say in reality. I really am not fond of the twists and spins they give to the Holy Father’s words these days. Need I say more? God bless. Ginnyfree.


  4. Michael says:

    Just read Fr. Z’s thoughts on this, and he kind of answers the question I raised above (which seems to have been slightly unpopular!) re the increased possibility of abuses:



  5. kathleen says:

    Hey, who is giving all these ‘thumbs down’ to the comments above? (Has Mr. Kehoe been cloned?) Besides, it is not even clear if the down-voters are in favour of the Pope’s reforms, or against them as neither Michael nor ginnyfree express a strong stance either way.

    Personally speaking, this new bombshell from Pope Francis makes me nervous, for as Ed Peters notes (thanks for the link, Michael) and Fr Z, ‘Canon Law procedures’ have been changed! Should this really be done with such ease and so little forewarning? Some are beginning to wonder what other ‘changes’ might be in store for us!

    On a more optimistic note is Michael’s question above: One final thought (re the announcement of this before the Synod) – might these reforms actually make it harder for Kasper et al to push through their proposed changes? and that, yes, seems to be asked by others too re Fr Z’s article.

    Yet this is Holy Matrimony, one of the Seven Sacraments, that we are dealing with. Should it really be annulled, done away with, in such a brief and easy way?


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.


  7. Mimi says:

    What does that mean, johnhenry?


  8. ginnyfree says:

    It’s from the Old Testament. It is what was written on the wall and read out prophetically by Daniel, Literally it means “numbered, numbered, weighed and divided.” There ya go. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  9. johnhenrycn says:

    …also idiomatically translated as: The writing is on the wall. ;(


  10. Mimi says:

    So, it’s not an American version of Eeny, meeny, miney moe? 🙂

    Thanks, Ginnyfree and Johnhenry.

    Nunca te acosterás sin saber una cosa más!


  11. ginnyfree says:

    Hello Mimi. Your comment is curious to me. Literally translated it means :you shall lie down without ever knowing one more thing. This is no blessing. Perhaps you can explain? God bless. Ginnyfree.


  12. kathleen says:

    @ ginnyfree

    Not really. The right translation would be: “never go to bed without having learnt something new!” 😉


  13. Michael says:

    A few more pertinent links for today…

    These first two communicate a general feeling of pleasure that a.) Pope Francis has released these documents just before the Synod, thus potentially quashing any attempts to use the ‘strictness’ of annulment procedures as a way of undermining teaching on marriage, freeing the forthcoming Synod to discuss things that actually can be changed and need addressing (like the abortion culture and the precarious state of the family in the modern world) and b.) that the Holy Father has also clearly reaffirmed the indissolubility of marriage:



    And here is another one from Dr. Peters blog, where he examines the new ‘fast-track’ annulment process, pointing out the potential problems therein (and suggesting some solutions):



  14. Michael says:

    And just as an aside, in this piece on an interview with Cardinal Muller, the latter says that:

    he is frequently asked why German bishops claim to be leaders of the Catholic Church — while flouting teachings on marriage and sexuality — despite overseeing dramatic reductions in church attendance, shrinking numbers of seminarians, and a drop in vocations to religious orders.

    Haha – a very good question! It always amazes me how those who so zealously seek to conform the Church to the world remain blind to the effects such an approach has already had!



  15. Mimi says:

    @ Ginnyfree:

    The best English equivalent might be:
    “Well, you learn something new every day!”

    (Thank you, Kathleen, for stepping into the breach! Having learned something, I promptly went to bed 🙂 )


  16. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 9:16 & 9:21 yesterday

    Thank you for these interesting links. It took me quite a while to read through them all, but they do give (together with Gertrude’s post from Rorate yesterday) a more enlarged picture of the Pope’s Motu Proprio on the changes to the marriage annulment procedures and the possible ramifications.

    Dr. Peters’ article was perhaps the most insightful, but altogether there are certainly differing opinions on the ‘rightness’ of these Apostolic Letters. My brain is spinning – I really don’t know yet how to bring together all the positive and negative implications in the proposed changes.*

    Your quote from Card. Mueller (although, as you say, not really referring to the topic we are discussing) is just so pertinent to the crises in the Church today, where the Liberals continue to battle on ‘shifting their deck-chairs on the sinking [German] Titanic’.
    We shall soon see the disastrous and foretold outcome of their rebellion to Magisterial Church teaching… unless a miracle happens and they change their tune pretty quick! The October Synod looms closer every day…

    *P.S. But personally-speaking, overall I continue to be most uneasy that some ‘true’ marriages might be legally annulled through lack of the ‘protective measures’ that were in order before.


  17. ginnyfree says:

    EXACTLY Kathleen! Spinning heads and all. We aren’t Canon Lawyers and we shouldn’t wade into waters that go over our heads in such matters. The temptation to find fault is not far from these kinds of discussions as well. Not the minefield I like tip-toeing thru myself. You’re doing just fine so far. Good job. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  18. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 11:07, September 10th:

    Yes, my head is spinning a little too! Canon law is (like most law) rather complicated stuff, and I am very grateful for Dr. Peters for bringing out some of the nuances involved in all this (I agree as well that his article(s) provide the most insight). Whilst I appreciate the optimism found in the other two articles, I too wonder whether clarity and rigour* may be being sacrificed for accessibility, and that perhaps a better approach might be to keep the system broadly the same but ‘even out’ the access to judiciaries across the world (one problem seems to be that in somewhere like the US there are canon lawyers aplenty, but in Argentina they are few, and in some countries there are none at all).

    Overall, I think Ginny is right here – there is a lot of information that we are not privy too here, and whilst I trust people like Dr. Peters and Fr. Z (not to mention Cardinal Burke) to give a fair presentation of what is going on, the full implications of these reforms may not be completely apparent to anyone yet; plus they may be subject to further clarification. Meanwhile, as Cardinal Muller points out, the German branch of Episcopal church USA/Catholic Bishops Conference continue to do what they do best, and view the whole situation through their narrow, zeitgeist worshipping view of the world, which seems to find its only real motivation in preserving their preferential financial status!

    *Which, as you say, raises the question of whether some valid marriages might end up being declared null due to valuing expediency over due process.


  19. Magdalene says:

    I have only ever known of one case where an annulment did not go through. In every other case, folks can just ‘get an annulment’ that is no different than divorce. In fact, the civil divorce comes first. So if one spouse finds a new squeeze, a ‘reason’ to annul the old spouse can be found. The children? Apparently they do not enter into the picture.


  20. Michael says:

    Oh, and just read a news story (slightly related, in that it involves the Pope) that says a lot about the mainstream secular media’s relationship with this pontificate (and the Church in general to be honest):


    Unbelievable that such a massive institution could do something so blatantly deceptive, but I suppose this is just a particularly prominent example of what goes on all the time (again, especially with respect to reporting on religion, and even more so when it comes to the Church).


  21. Michael says:

    Magdalene @ 18:19, September 10th:

    I have only ever known of one case where an annulment did not go through. In every other case, folks can just ‘get an annulment’ that is no different than divorce.

    Where do all these divorced and remarried couples (who are the focus of the controversy surrounding the Synod) fit in to this picture? If everyone who tries to have their marriage declared null is successful, then we would have to presume the others just didn’t bother.


  22. ginnyfree says:

    Kathleen, people being people and since sinners tend to lie, there have been marriages that were annulled that shouldn’t have been. The Tribunal and the Canon Lawyers do their very best to get to the truth of the matter, but they cannot pry hen’s teeth. I don’t think you need to be told this, but when marriages break up, it sometimes gets very ugly. People who used to love each other stab each other right in the back. One of the ways these unfortunate persons get even is to interfere with the annulment process. They lie. This cannot be stopped no matter what the Pope, the Canon Lawyers and everyone else involved in the process do or say. There will be marriages annulled that shouldn’t be still and conversely, there will be null marriages that still don’t get recognized. These improvements are only that – improvements. No matter what the Holy Father says and does, people are still going to ignore his words as they do most of what you and I believe and practice. There is great wisdom in a simple prayer: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things that I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. I think our Holy Father’s action in this regard are the epitome of knowing what he could change and finding the courage to do so. And considering the fact that most of what he says and does almost instantly is subject to mean and often hurtful scrutiny rather than ready obedience. He has a heart and it’s gotten to take a few stripes from many of his sheep. I pray he doesn’t get bitter over the general way he is treated. Hope this helps. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  23. geoffkiernan says:

    I find myself in a real quandary here. Given my previous ‘disagreement’ with Ginnyfree in respect to criticism of our Holy Father Pope Francis and my undertaking to be more cautious in future, I am now confronted with her unabashed and copious praise for everything the Holy Father does.
    Her paragraph…” I think the Holy Fathers actions…… I pray he doesn’t get bitter over the general way he is treated” leaves me both bewildered and not a little confused.
    I will say no more for fear of appearing to criticise. Please Pray for the Holy Father and especially the Church. And God Bless you GF


  24. geoffkiernan says:

    PS …. I must add that I Pray FOR the Holy Father, not necessarily for his intentions


  25. Michael says:

    Ginny @ 22:10, September 10th:

    I’m a little confused as to your comment here. You had already replied to Kathleen’s most recent comment, advising that as we are not canon lawyers we should not get involved, and instead wait and see what happens. Now, despite their being no further correspondence from Kathleen, you have replied again, giving just the kind of assessment of the Holy Father’s reforms that you counselled against!

    Also, I must confess that I do not understand what you are saying in your most recent reply – the gist of it seems to be that, because people abuse the system as it is, then it is a good thing to make the process less rigorous (which to my mind would lead to its – potentially – being even more open to abuse). Also, you add a critique of criticisms of the Pope, despite there not having been any made on this thread. I don’t understand :-S


  26. kathleen says:

    @ Ginnyfree

    Without having discussed anything with him about the above, Michael @ 9:42 puts my own thoughts intuitively into words – thank you dear friend.

    Ginny, I read your first response to me @ 12:21 yesterday and agreed with it, but when late last night I read your second one @ 22:10 I was puzzled and not sure what to reply to you. You bring up the subject of lying, but that is not really the issue here. Yes, we know there will always be those who will lie (even in the Confessional) to get their own way, but in doing so they are deceiving themselves too if an annulment (or in the case of Confession, absolution) is granted on those false pretences.

    As Michael says, there has been no criticism aimed at the Holy Father on this thread, but our experience of some of his words and actions these last years has unfortunately left many of us rather perplexed sometimes, and not a little uncertain as to his real underlying intentions on certain doctrinal issues, especially the ones that will be discussed at the next Synod. We may be wrong over this, and nobody would be happier than me (or Geoff 😉 ) if that were so.
    Certainly it is positive that the Pope reiterates the indissolubility of Holy Matrimony in these Apostolic Letters… but OTOH it does appear as though these changes in the procedures for annulment petitions might (I do say might, as we cannot know for certain yet) allow for errors of judgement to slip through the system. Cardinal Burke reminds us that the former system had been built up and perfected over years, precisely to avoid mistakes being made.

    We must wait to see how the Holy Father reveals himself at the Synod on the Family. Near the end of that amazing video, “Crisis”, published on here yesterday, Card. Lenga puts the only two opposing positions the HF can take in no uncertain terms!!

    Liked by 1 person

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