Pope announces annulment reform

Pope Francis speaks to Saint Peter's square on Wednesday

VATICAN CITY – The currently expensive and controversial process of marriage annulment in the Catholic Church is to be reformed, announced Pope Francis on Wednesday.

  Legal services in annulment cases will now be free, in an attempt to open the process to all churchgoers rather than a wealthy elite. The move may not prove popular with the 200 ecclesiastic lawyers worldwide who are renowned for charging hefty sums.

 The current state of affairs has resulted in many legally divorced Catholic couples never seeking to open annulment proceedings because of the associated cost and bureaucracy. The process usually takes five-six years to complete, under Francis’s reforms however, this should be reduced to 1.5.

 Further to this reform announced Wednesday by the Vatican, the pontiff is also changing the procedure for dealing with rogue bishops. Instead of being “invited to leave” as per the current system, those found guilty of serious or embarrassing discretions will instead be forced to take a demotion or resign.

 The reforms follow the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, whose final report included the general wish of the church to make the annulment process speedier and less convoluted.

 Speaking on Wednesday Francis said, “Obtaining a marriage annulment will be a faster and cleaner process; there have been those who have sought bribes.”  

 He added that current systems make it impossible for ordinary Catholics to obtain a church judgment, citing the situation in the Church court of Buenos Aires, which serves fifteen dioceses some at a distance of 240km, “As you can imagine it is impossible for simple people, for the most part, to take their case to court. It would mean taking a journey, losing days of work, money and time. And so they say: God understands me, and I will go on as I am, with this weight on my soul.”

 Figures show that in the past 14 years around 3,000 couples have sought church annulments each year. With the introduction of the pope’s latest reforms, this figure could be set to soar.