• Pope Francis Simplifies Rules For Ending Church Marriages

    The Vatican Tuesday announced changes to the Catholic Church’s rules for obtaining a marriage annulment, citing “concern for the salvation of souls.”

    The Church does not recognize divorce under any circumstances. But Catholics can obtain an annulment, a Church ruling that their marriage was not valid, after a church court considers traditional criteria such as fraud or “defect of intent.” Without an annulment, Catholics who divorce and remarry are considered unfaithful to their first marriage, and therefore prohibited from receiving Communion.

    In many places, the Catholic process for obtaining an annulment can be complex, difficult and expensive. So Tuesday’s new church laws governing the annulment process allow for the fast-tracking of separations in which both spouses agree to the conditions.

    Pope Francis said Tuesday that streamlining the annulment process was a major concern for many Catholic bishops at the Synod on the Family, a gathering which took place last October. The changes will go into effect Dec. 8, the start of a yearlong commemorative period called the “Year of Mercy.” (RELATED: What Pope Francis Did And Didn’t Say About Forgiving Abortion)

    The new rules no longer require an automatic appeal. That is, for a couple to bring their annulment before two separate church courts, in what Pope Francis called “cases of moral certainty” — just one court ruling will do. And if there is an appeal, rather than taking their case all the way to the Vatican, the couple must simply approach the nearest archdiocese.

    Catholic dioceses in the U.S. today can charge up to $1,000 dollars for an annulment. To avoid the obstacle of cost, the Vatican has also said annulments will be free of charge. Pope Francis said the change was to  emphasize that “the Church is a generous mother,” echoing the theme of divine mercy within the boundaries of the Church that has been consistent in his papacy. (RELATED: Contraception, Gays, Fornication: Polls Show Shift In US Catholic Pop)

    Pope Francis technically unveiled two separate laws Tuesday, one for the Roman Rite which governs the vast majority of Catholics, and another for the various Eastern Catholic churches which recognize the pope’s authority. At the press conference announcing the changes, Greek Catholic bishop Dimitrios Salachas said the move was inspired by the comparatively simpler rules for divorce in the Orthodox Church.

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