On Saturday Pope Francis told participants in course on the streamlined annulment process that the main goal of the new norms is pastoral, and seeks to reach out to families suffering from a broken marriage.
“These measures have an eminently pastoral goal: to show the Church’s concern for those faithful who are waiting for a quick verification on their marital status,” the Pope said March 12.
He noted that many faithful suffer due to the end of their marriages, and couples are frequently “oppressed by doubt” as to whether or not their marriage was valid or in valid.
It is out of both charity and mercy, as well as lived experience, that the Church decided to create the new, streamlined annulment process, which aims to grow closer to persons with a failed marriage, and to meet “their legitimate desire for justice,” he said.
Francis stressed the new procedures were created with a pastoral intention, and that for divorced couples living in a second union, the “most important” concern of the Church is that they don’t feel ostracized, but continue to participate in the ecclesial community.
Pope Francis spoke to participants in a formation course for the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Holy’s See’s main court, dedicated the new marriage annulment process. Held in Rome, the course ran from March 7-12, and was closed by an audience with the Pope.
In his speech, Francis noted that many divorced couples seeking an annulment found the process overly complicated, and many encountered difficultly in accessing the appropriate ecclesial judicial structures.
Because of this, he said, he decided to streamline the process, putting into place a new set of norms aimed at simplifying the procedures so couples aren’t left waiting for an answer, often harassed by doubt.
The changes were published Aug. 15, 2015, in two motu proprio - or letters issued by the Pope “on his own initiative.” The documents were entitled “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (The Lord Jesus, a meek judge), which deals with modifications in the Latin Rite's Code of Canon Law, and “Mitis et misericors Iesus” (Jesus, meek and merciful), which outlines changes for Eastern Churches who, although in full communion with Rome, have historically had a different process.
In a nutshell, the new rules, which went into effect Dec. 8, 2015, drop the automatic appeal previously required after a decision on nullity had been reached, and place a stronger emphasis on local bishops, allowing them to make their own judgements on obvious cases of marriage nullity.
In his speech to the course participants, Pope Francis said it’s important that the new rules are “received and deepened in,” particularly by those managing the ecclesial tribunals, in order to create “a service that is more just and charitable for families.”
Those who have experienced a failed marriage and are awaiting a ruling on the sacrament’s validity must be helped to move forward in the process “as smoothly as possible,” he said.
He encouraged the course participants “to treasure what you have learned,” always keeping in mind the “salus animarum (salvation of souls), which is the supreme law of the Church,” as they continue their work.
In addition to caring for the wounds of couples in a failed marriage, Francis also emphasized the need to recognize families who continue to persevere in the sacrament, despite difficult conditions.
“These witnesses of marital fidelity must be encouraged and pointed to as examples to imitate,” he said, noting that many men and women bear heavy burdens so as not to destroy the family.
“To be faithful in sickness and in health, in difficulties and in the good times: this is fidelity,” he said, and thanked the participants for their commitment to working for justice.
He urged them not to view their mission as a mere profession, “or worse, as a power, but as a service of souls, especially those which are most wounded.”