Pope Francis has issued two motu proprios which are similar to presidential executive orders. The motu proprios entitled, “Mitis Iudex Dominex Iesus” (The Lord Jesus, a meek judge) and “Mitis et misericors Iesus” (Jesus, meek and merciful) detail several changes to the annulment process. The first document touches on modifications to the Cod of Canon Law in the Roman Rite and the latter document deals on the laws for the uniate rites or Eastern Rite Churches who are in full communion with Rome and who have different laws.
Last year’s synod of bishops brought up the topic of annulments. Many bishops complained that the process is too complicated and at times forces Catholics to leave the Church altogether. The Pope decided to speed up the process for those couples who both agree that the marriage was invalid for one reason or more. He also removed any fees associated with it. Many dioceses charged couples $600 -$900 for the process which entails a lot of paperwork, canon lawyers, interviews and extensive investigation.
An annulment is a declaration by the Church that a marriage that took place ceremonially, did not take effect sacramentally due to the lack of certain elements.
(1) the spouses are free to marry;
(2) they freely exchange their consent;
(3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children;
(4) they intend the good of each other; and
(5) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
The USCCB defines it as:
“An annulment is a declaration by a Church tribunal (a Catholic church court) that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union.” – http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/annulment/
Many people, especially outsiders confuse an annulment with a divorce. It is not a divorce. The Catholic Church does not approve of divorces and any Catholic who attempts to “dissolve” a Catholic marriage (which is Indissoluble) in the civil sense is in mortal sin and cannot receive Holy Communion.
The Pope made it clear that he does not wish to “dissolve” any marriage but is focused on the salvation of souls. So far the news have been met with concern from self-proclaimed “conservative” Catholics but accepted by “mainstream” Catholics.
I too have some concern in regards to the possibility of an increase in so-called “invalid” marriages now that the process will be free and expedited, but only time will tell. However, I am happy the fee is gone. The idea of charging $600 or more came across as simony to me and many others. The Catholic Church should not come across as a business looking to profit off spirituality. Some of her members in the past made the mistake of selling indulgences already, we do not need a repeat of this stupidity.