It has been announced that two letter Motu Proprio are expected from Pope Francis tomorrow, each on the intended reformation of the annulment process. From Rorate Caeli:
The Vatican today announced that a press conference will be held at noon tomorrow for the presentation of two Apostolic Letters of Pope Francis, given motu proprio: Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus. These concern the reform of the canonical process for the causes of declaration of nullity of marriage (commonly called “annulment”) respectively for the (Latin-Rite) Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
The extremely short notice given for the press conference (only 24 hours) is highly unusual, as is the speed with which this reform has been accomplished — less than a year! The Commission for the reform of the canonical process for declarations of nullity of marriage was announced only on September 20, 2014.
It is feared by not a few that the reforms will amount to a major simplification of the process and a greater ease in the granting of annulments, as already explained by Don Pio Pace in an essay on “Catholic Divorce” published by this blog in November last year.***
Merely to illustrate how much things have changed in just three years: in 2012 the Vatican also had a project to reform some aspects of the canonical process for declarations of nullity. The major difference is that this project had as its aim to tighten, or make stricter, the grounds for granting these declarations — not make these easier to obtain. (Rorate posted about this in May 2012.) One of the driving forces behind this “Ratzingerian” version of annulment reform was Cardinal Burke, whose removal from the Apostolic Signatura in November 2014 was, at the very least, highly convenient for the partisans of annulment simplification.
Second, be on the lookout for other signal gestures. Last year, 20 couples from the diocese of Rome were married by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in mid-September – including those who already had children or were cohabitating. As the Catholic News Service report on the ceremony stated at the time:
While cohabitation is not in itself a canonical impediment to marriage, it is contrary to the church’s teaching on marriage and sexual love. The church urges that pastoral ministers help couples preparing for marriage by showing them the witness of Christian family life in such a way as they may regularize their situation before their wedding ceremony.
But while it was impossible to ascertain whether there was anything technically wrong in what was taking place, the emphasis being placed on the irregular state of these couples broadcast a message to both the Church and the world that this would be the theme of the upcoming Synod – expect the unexpected. The point was driven home by the unusual nature of the event – it was the first such public wedding ceremony by a pope in over a decade.
This year, my money is on the World Meeting of Families as the event to watch for signals on what is to come in October, though there will no doubt be more surprises.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.