By Liz Sullivan
As the Year of Mercy begins, the Catholic Church is taking a more merciful approach to a delicate topic: annulments.
On December 8, the start of the holy Year of Mercy, new reforms to the Canon Law of the Church took effect. The new law reduces the number of courts and judges and drops automatic appeals of a decision.
The Diocese of San Jose’s Tribunal hosted an information session for Diocesan employees on the new procedures on December 1. Under the rules of the Church, Catholics whose marriages have broken down and wish to marry someone else in Church must first obtain an annulment. “This is a major step in the major laws of the church,” said Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, himself a Canon Lawyer. “Marriage is forever, however we know that not all marriages succeed. It just happens that way. Previously the process had been long and protracted. The new procedure gives us a different option.”
Pope Francis issued his documents changing Canon Law on September 8 and the documents are in tune with the request of the bishops, who during last year’s Synod of Bishops on the family, spoke of a simplification of the process.
Prior to this point, the system required annulments to be issued by one court and confirmed by another; further delaying the process. Under the changes approved by the Pope, the process will now only need one court unless an appeal is made. In the case of an appeal, the Pope ruled that it can be handled by the nearest archdiocese.
“Mercy needs to be shown to these people,” said Father Andres Ligot, the Judicial Vicar for the Diocese. “We need to be merciful to the people. You are annulling an invalid marriage. The process of the Holy Father is to get more people active in the church.”
Pope Francis also said he wanted all annulments to be free. Currently, the fees in the Diocese of San Jose are to be determined.
In his experience as a canonist, the Bishop said people had one simple wish.
“People are interested in receiving the Eucharist again,” he said.
To learn more about this process, visit www.dsj.org/tribunal.