New Procedures for Cases Declaring Nullity of Marriage

Introducing reforms to the legal structures around marital nullity, Pope Francis published two apostolic letters motu proprio on Tuesday 8 September 2015. The letters are known as Mitis et misericors Iesus   and  Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus.  

The first is a reform of the canon law procedure on marriage of the Oriental Churches and the second on the reform of the procedure on marriage in the Code of Canon Law for Latin Churches.

During a press conference launching the documents, Pope Francis made the distinction that we do not speak of “annulments” as the Church does not make marriages null but rather discovers facts, which show that a particular union is Null.

The changes in procedure, not in Church teaching, are warmly and joyfully welcomed by the Australian Catholic Bishops, clergy and laity alike. The bishops noted in particular the title Pope Francis has given to this decision ‘the Gentle Judge, the Lord Jesus’.

The breakdown of a marriage is always a tragic occurrence. It brings great suffering for the couple and often confusion and distress for the children.

It is Catholic teaching that Christian marriage is a sharing in the unbreakable love between Christ and his Church. Just as that bond can never be broken, so the bond between husband and wife is unbreakable.

Nevertheless it can often happen that two people enter into marriage without being aware of or fully committed to what it is that creates that unbreakable bond. In such circumstances it is a matter both of justice and of compassionate mercy that the Church makes it as easy as possible for any deficiencies in the forming of the marriage bond to be identified so that, where possible, an annulment may be speedily granted.

The reforms announced by Pope Francis which come into effect on December 8, the opening day for the Year of Mercy, will make much more evident the Church’s commitment to being, in Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy.

What will change for people approaching the Tribunal?

  • People will be able to have their local Tribunal hear their case, whereas before there were restrictions as to which Tribunal would have the responsibility, perhaps interstate or even in another country.
  • The process will be simpler in that there will be several formats to follow with less intrusive questioning.
  • In most cases, the final decision will be made locally without recourse to another Tribunal.
  • Lay people have the possibility of much greater involvement and responsibility in the decision making process.
  • Most Tribunals in the past have asked for a partial contribution from people. Pope Francis asks that provided there is adequate provision for the operating of the Tribunal, the service would be free of charge. This will involve discussions within the Church at various levels.
  • Tribunals will need time to adapt to what is required in all of this and there will be a lead in time for the changes to take full effect.

Prepared by the Bishops Commission for Canon Law

Most Reverend Robert McGuckin DD MCL JCL, Bishop of Toowoomba and Chair of the Bishops Commission for Canon Law discusses the new procedures for declaration of marriage nullity and what it means for Catholics in Australia.

YouTube video kindly prepared by the Diocese of Parramatta.