Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UPDATED: On the Holy See's Annulment reforms

I assume that most of my readers are aware that today Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio (i.e., on his own authority as Supreme Pontiff) concerning how petitions of the faithful to annul marriages are adjudicated: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericos Iesus, respectively. These letters change the Codex Iuris Canonici, the code of canon law governing the Latin, or Roman Catholic, Church and the Index Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalum, the unified code of canon law governing the 22 Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See. These changes to Church law are the result of the work of a commission appointed by the Holy Father last September shortly before the opening of last fall's Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

Being a Roman Catholic deacon I am only concerned with Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, which reforms canon law for the Latin Church. Without waxing too editorial or exceeding my very limited competency, here are the major reforms set forth in the Holy Father's motu proprio as I understand them:

First, annulments will be free of charge. Apparently in some dioceses the cost to petition for an annulment is quite expensive. This is not so in my diocese, even for a formal case, and never has been. I suppose the effect on diocesan finances and tribunal staffing will vary from place to place. Perhaps this will be an incentive for dioceses to establish and maintain not only robust marriage preparation, but better lifelong marriage and family life ministries. There seems to be some leeway left for there to be administrative fees, however.

Updated The heart of the reform is the so-called "fast-track" annulment. Such an annulment, which will be adjudicated locally on the authority of the(/a- some dioceses have auxiliary bishops) bishop, must be consented to by both parties. Petitions that can be "fast-tracked" will be decided locally within the diocese and will not be subjected to review by a tribunal of second instance. Of course, only formal cases, as opposed Ligamen, Lack of Form, Pauline Privilege cases, will be heard in this way. The other types of petitions are already determined locally and relatively quickly in most instances. Currently all formal cases are adjudicated by the tribunal of first instance, the diocesan tribunal with competency to hear the case, and a tribunal of second instance.

The tribunal of second instance is usually the tribunal of another diocese in the same metropolitan province, or archdiocese. For example, in my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, or, as I like to say, we're the eastern-most outpost of the archdiocese, the Marriage Tribunal for the Diocese of Oakland serves as our tribunal of second instance.

Appeals of judgments made in "fast track" cases will be made to the archbishop of the metropolitan province. For examples of grounds for a "fast-track" annulment along with a canonical discussion of them see Dr Ed Peters' "A second look at Mitis, especially at the new fast-track annulment process."

Updated The third reform is related to the second: if, after being summoned twice, the Respondent (i.e., the spouse not petitioning for an annulment) doesn't respond to the tribunal, then the annulment will move forward on the assumption that s/he consents that the marriage is null, presumably on the stated ground(s). This makes it possible for a petition to be fast-tracked in cases where the consent of one the parties is not explicitly given.

Fourth, in cases that are adjudicated locally by a bishop, the judge must be a cleric, that is, a bishop, priest, or deacon. I don't believe this is a change, but merely a reiteration of what is in the current law.

There will be likely be more to follow here on this and marriage as we make our way to next month's Synod.

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