Q. I’ve read a lot about Pope Francis changing the annulment process. What does this mean? How does it impact Catholics?
A. The tribunal of the Diocese of Lincoln has written a summary of the technical changes recently made to the annulment process, which can also be found in this Register. The tribunal gives excellent insight into the details of each change.
But many Catholics are also asking what these changes mean for them. Here is what is important to know:
1. When two people exchange their consent to be married, in the proper forum, the Church believes that marriage has begun, unless it can be proven that the marriage was invalid. This can be proven if the bride or groom was not freely consenting to the marriage, or if they did not intend a life-long, faithful partnership open to children. The aim of that investigation has not changed. Instead, the Holy Father has modified the process by which the Church investigates the invalidity of marriages.
2. The changes to the process are intended to get the truth—all of the facts pertaining to the marriage— as easily as possible, and to judge the marriage’s validity as quickly as possible. Most of the changes are quite technical, and most people will not see them in a substantial way. But cumulatively, these technical changes may yield a process that takes less time than it does now. In most tribunals in the United States, marriage cases are usually judged in a period between 12-18 months, though some can take much longer. Often in the Diocese of Lincoln the timeframe is even shorter. The Holy Father’s hope is to shorten the process as much as possible.
3. The Church can never change, and will never change, her teachings on marriage. Marriage is a sacred and life-long bond. Divorce is not a moral option, except under very serious and limited circumstances, which are best discussed with a pastor. And tribunals do not grant “Catholic divorces”—they investigate whether a marriage ever really took place.
For most Catholics, even those undergoing a tribunal process, the Holy Father’s changes will go unnoticed. But they are an effort on the Holy Father’s part to help those seeking answers and guidance from the Church to get them as quickly as possible. The Holy Father has also encouraged couples in troubled marriages to pray together, to remain committed to each other, and to seek help from their pastors. Ask the Register encourages those who have faced divorce to speak with a pastor about their needs, and encourages those who struggle in marriage to seek help from their pastors. The Holy Father’s changes are a sign of his love for the Church, and his desire for all to know truth, justice, and peace in Jesus Christ.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.