Pope Francis Makes It Easier to Annul Catholic Marriages

The sweeping changes, which streamline the annulment process, are the biggest changes to the process in 300 years.

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Pope Francis today announced plans to reform the way Catholics can end their marriages, a sweeping change that streamlines the annulment process and makes it easier for Catholics to remarry.

The Catholic Church does not permit divorce. But it has, believe it or not, a bit of a loophole: Catholics can get an annulment, a finding by a Catholic tribunal that a marriage was never legally valid in the first place. Grounds for annulment are laid out in the Catholic Church’s canon law.

The new annulment rules — which go into effect on December 8th — streamline the process. They eliminate the automatic second review that all annulments currently go through, and allow some couples to go through a “fast track” where the local bishop could declare a marriage annulled in just two months. Pope Francis biographer Austen Ivereigh told Time it’s the most sweeping change to the annulment process in more than 300 years.

Almost half of the Catholic annulments worldwide take place in the United States, according to Religion News Service. The U.S. church has just six percent of the world Catholic population; 90 percent of annulment applications are granted in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal reports the process generally takes a little under two years, though sometimes it can last as long as 10.

A papal commission worked for a year on the changes, which were announced in two letters from Pope Francis: “The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus” and “The Meek and Merciful Jesus.”

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