By Ellen Romer Niemiec
Pope Francis issued two motu proprios concerning reforms to the annulment process. While it is currently only available in Italian and Latin and we aren’t particular scholars of those particular languages here at Catholic How, I have read as many reports and translations as I can before a second cup of coffee (though I did like the bullet points in Crux’s coverage). As with most reports and news about the Church, I would recommend you inform yourself as best you can. From everything I have managed to read, here are my initial observations:
- Greater empowerment of the local church and attention to our smaller community. Echoing the tone of Pope Francis’ extension of discretion to forgive women who’ve had abortions, the local church is brought into greater focus as bishops are given a stronger role in the lives of their people. It is a reminder that while much attention is paid to Rome and the leadership that resides there, the church is far more widespread and the life of the Church is lived everywhere.
- Process reforms with real pastoral effect. Reading about ‘reform’ and ‘processes’ can absolutely feel a little bit cold, especially when the reforms include things like fewer judges. If you’ve known someone who has tried to navigate the annulment process, you know it’s never actually simple. Taking money out of the equation removes a barrier and takes away the feeling of the Church as a business. Allowing appeals to be judged locally means that someone doesn’t have to feel that a major decision affecting their life isn’t being made by some person far away. A simplified process still respects and values the sacramentality of marriage but also respects the real lives of those experiencing the breakdown of a relationship and the challenges of civil divorce that all have to come even before the annulment process begins..
- Annulments are simplified – now what? These reforms will (hopefully) have a real impact on the lives of people trying to navigate what life looks like after marriage. Concrete adjustments such as these will have a pastoral effect, but what other pastoral care is offered to couples and families throughout this process? If focus is turned toward the local church, how can our local communities better support their members, not only through annulments, but through marriage prep, marriage counseling, divorce, etc? If the family is its own local domestic church, how are we tending to them when they experience difficult and sometimes traumatic change?