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Pope Francis announces changes to annulment process

Posted on September 8, 2015 at 11:38 AM Comments comments ()
 
The pope has today announced changes to the procedures for those seeking annulments, making the process easier, more simplified and less expensive.
 
 
There is no longer a requirement for a twofold process in coming to a decision on marital nullity. The first decision, which is the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop, shall be considered sufficient and binding and there will no longer be a second stage (known as 'automatic appeal') in the decision making process.  The outcome of the decision may still be appealed but it will not be automatic and there will be new rules built around the appeals process to ensure a party doesn't simply use it as a delaying tactic.
 
 
It isn’t reform on a grand scale and it does not remove or water down the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but it is a small change which will make the process easier for people seeking annulments in the future.  It is important to note that the changes don’t necessarily mean that more annulments will be granted.
 
 
Here is the full report from the Vatican News website:
 
Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio on Tuesday, by which he introduced reforms to the legal structures of the Church, which deal with questions of marital nullity. One of the Letters motu proprio, known by its Latin title, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus – or “The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge” – reforms the Code of Canon Law (CIC) governing the Latin Church, while the other, Mitis et misericorsIesus or “Clement and merciful Jesus” – reforms the Code of Canon Law for Oriental Churches (CCEO).
 
 
According to the prefatory remarks attached to both Letters, the reforms are the result of an expert group appointed to study the current state of law and practice in the Church as far as marriage law is concerned. The Holy Father goes on in the preface to explain that the reforms are guided by seven specific criteria, ample excerpts of which Vatican Radio offers below in its own unofficial English translation:
 
  1. That there be only one sentence in favor of executive nullity – It appeared opportune, in the first place, that there no longer be required a twofold decision in favor of marital nullity, in order that the parties be admitted to new canonically valid marriages: the moral certainty reached by the first judge according to law should be sufficient.
  2. A single judge under the responsibility of the Bishop – The constitution of a single judge in the first instance, who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee that no laxity be indulged in this matter.
  3. The Bishop is judge – In order that the teaching of the II Vatican Council be finally translated into practice in an area of great importance, the decision was made to make evident the fact that the Bishop is, in his Church – of which he is constituted pastor and head – is by that same constitution judge among the faithful entrusted to him. It is desired that, in Dioceses both great and small, the Bishop himself should offer a sign of the conversion of ecclesiastical structures, and not leave the judicial function completely delegated to the offices of the diocesan curia, as far as matters pertaining to marriage are concerned.
  4. Increased brevity in the legal process – In fact, beyond making the marriage annulment process more agile, a briefer form of trying nullity cases has been designed – in addition to the documentary process already approved and in use – which is to be applied in cases in which the accusation of marital nullity is supported by particularly evident arguments. In any case, the extent to which an abbreviated process of judgment might put the principle of the indissolubility of marriage at risk, did not escape me [writes Pope Francis – ed.]: thus, I have desired that, in such cases the Bishop himself shall be constituted judge, who, by force of his pastoral office is with Peter the greatest guarantor of Catholic unity in faith and in discipline.
  5. Appeal to the Metropolitan See – It is fitting that the appeal to the Metropolitan See be re-introduced, since that office of headship of an Ecclesiastical province, stably in place through the centuries, is a distinctive sign of the synodality of the Church.
  6. The proper role of the Bishops’ Conferences – The Bishops’ Conferences, which must be driven above all by the anxious apostolic desire to reach the far-off faithful, should formally recognize the duty to share the aforesaid conversion, and respect absolutely the right of the Bishops to organize judicial power each within his own particular Church.
 
The re-establishment of vicinity between the judge and the faithful, in fact, shall not be successful if the stimulus does not come from the Conferences to the single Bishops, along with the necessary assistance, to put into practice the reform of the marital nullity process.
 
  1. Appeal to the Apostolic See – It is fitting that the appeal to the ordinary Tribunal of the Apostolic See, i.e. the Roman Rota, be maintained: this, in respect of a most ancient juridical principle, so that the bond between the See of Peter and the particular Churches be reinforced – having care, in any case, in the discipline of the use of said appeal, to contain any and all abuse of right, in order that the salvation of souls be given no cause for harm.
 
Indeed, the prefatory remarks make clear from the very start, that thesingle most important principle guiding the Holy Father’s action and the workof reform undertaken, is that of salus animarum – the salvation of souls– which is the suprema Ecclesiae lex – the supreme law of the Church.
 

Church's willingness to forgive women who have had abortions is nothing new

Posted on September 1, 2015 at 11:25 AM Comments comments ()
The Church recognises the tragedy of abortion
 
Pope Francis has asked priests not to withhold God’s mercy to women who have had abortions and who seek forgiveness for it during the Church’s upcoming Year of Mercy.
 
 
The pope, in a letter addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Archbishop of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, said that: “I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”
 
 
The pope also said: “May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”
 
 
But is this really the headline grabbing story some are suggesting it is?  Not quite.  So what has changed, if anything?  Well, the big (and only!) change comes in the shape of who can forgive a woman who has procured an abortion.  Normally this is a matter for the local Bishop but the pope, in his letter, is allowing priests to do this.  That’s the change heralded in the pope’s letter.  Nothing more.  Indeed it's an even more insignificant change when you consider that Bishops already have the power to delegate such a power to priests in their diocese.  The net effect of the change is that absolution may be given on the spot in the confessional without the need for the priest to approach the Bishop about the matter.
 
 
Church teaching on abortion has not, and will not, change.  The Church believes that all human life, from the moment of conception until natural death, must be protected.  Since the very beginning the Church has denounced abortion as a moral evil, a teaching it states in the Catechism is ‘unchangeable’. The Church teaches that abortion willed either as an end or a means is gravely contrary to the moral law.  It also states that formal cooperation in an abortion ‘constitutes a grave offence’. 
 
 
In terms of the consequences of procuring abortion the Church is clear that such an offence ‘incurs excommunication latae sententiae’ (immediately on commission of the offence), yet it is the text that follows which is of most interest.  The Catechism states that ‘the Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy.  Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society’.
 
 
In essence, the Church is open to the possibility of forgiveness for someone who has procured abortion, subject always to the Code of Canon Law which sets out the circumstances when a person cannot be guilty of a grave offence or who is guilty but with diminished responsibility for their actions.  An example of this would be a person who is unaware (through no fault of their own) of the Code of Canon Law or who was forced to commit the grave offence through fear. 
 
 
This actually fits in perfectly with something else the pope said in his letter to Archbishop Fisichella (the bit the mainstream media are leaving out): “The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.”
 
 
The Church has, and always will, provide those involved in abortion with the opportunity to confess their sins and have those sins forgiven.  This will always be the case and it is not true that the Church is suddenly offering women the chance of forgiveness for abortion during a one year 'window of opportunity', as has been reported by some media outlets.  The Church’s doors are always open to those seeking God’s forgiveness.  In that sense what the pope is doing is nothing radical.  However, his timing is interesting, getting the world talking about abortion at the same time as the Planned Parenthood scandal.  
 
  
It is also worth noting that, contrary to popular misconception, excommunication is, along with the other two censures of the Church (suspension and interdict), not so much a punishment but a medicine for the wellbeing of the soul.  It is ordered to help the person, not punish them.

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