VATICAN CITY, Sept. 8 (UPI) — Pope Francis announced changes Tuesday to the process by which Catholics can annul their marriage.
In a statement from the Vatican, Pope Francis said obtaining marriage annulments is a typically cumbersome, lengthy and expensive process that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for couples. Now, the process will be handled directly by bishops, which he says will cheapen and expedite the process.
Prior to the announcement, annulments were reviewed by various Church tribunals and referred to a Vatican court should disagreements arise.
The second review in the process will be removed, bishops will be able to grant the annulments themselves in certain circumstances — for example, spousal abuse — and the process itself will be free save for an administrative fee.
Statistics from a study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate show 61 percent of African Catholics completed the annulment process in 2012. Comparatively, Catholics in Western countries who can hire canon lawyers for help had an 86 percent completion rate. CARA said this is reflective of the high cost of seeking annulments, as more people in the Western countries are likely to afford to complete the process.
Andrew Chestnut, an expert on religion in Latin America and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told CNN that he sees the annulment revisions as the Pope’s way of creating a more inclusive church and thereby reaching out to Catholics alienated by the institution’s stance on divorce, abortion and homosexuality.
Francis’ announcement on annulments came less than a week after he said Catholic priests will be able to forgive Catholics who have an abortion under certain conditions.
Divorces are not recognized by the Catholic Church under the idea that marital unions are blessed by God and cannot be dissolved. But, annulments are viewed as the dissolution of marriages that were flawed from the beginning and therefore invalid according to God.
Without an annulment, a man or woman who remarries is considered an adulterer and therefore banned from certain religious activities.