Today Pope Francis made public a document regarding a reform of the marriage nullity process of the Church, called “Lord Jesus, Clement Judge.” At present no official English translation has been issued but rather the document is currently found in Latin and Italian. Further detailed study will of, course, be necessary. At this stage, however, it can be said that the document makes procedural changes to the marriage nullity process, and seeks to complement the Church’s current norms, not eliminate or completely replace them. Pope Francis’ general emphasis is to ensure all those seeking such a declaration that they are provided a timely hearing and not subject to undue delays or financial burdens. It does not seek to relax the actual reasons for which marriages are declared invalid, and thus to make for “easy annulments.” In fact, it calls for ecclesiastical judges to be certain that reconciliation of the parties is impossible before entertaining a request for nullity. The changes thus generally aim to expedite the processing of these requests, simplify the legal demands, and ensure that the Church’s Tribunals are readily available for approach by interested parties. Pope Francis states in the Introduction, “In full harmony with this desire I have decided to introduce… provisions that favour not the nullity of marriage but rather the speed of processes, along with the appropriate simplicity, so that the heart of the faithful who await clarification of their status is not long oppressed by the darkness of doubt due to the lengthy wait for a conclusion.” It can be noted that some of these norms are already practiced in United States Tribunals.
In regard to the changes, one of the most significant is that the present need for two decisions by two separate Church courts in order for an annulment to be granted is no longer necessary; the decision of one diocesan Church court is now sufficient. A second significant change involves the introduction of a briefer procedure, in which a full judicial process is not necessary when certain conditions are present. In addition, Bishops of the Church are encouraged to be more involved in these cases, including serving as judges themselves. The development or enhancement of methods to assist persons in submitting such cases is also called for.