Bishop Paprocki on Pope Francis’ Annulment Reform

Statement by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki
Pope Francis’ Reform of Canonical Procedure for the Annulment of Marriage

Pope Francis issued a document, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus”), on Sept. 8 calling for reform of canonical procedure for the annulment of marriage in the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. These modifications address the procedures to be followed when a person petitions for a declaration of nullity of marriage.  I, along with the college of Catholic bishops throughout the world, am happy to see to it that these modifications will be put into effect in our diocesan tribunals on Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the opening day of the “Year of Mercy” proclaimed by Pope Francis.

The Catholic Church continues to teach that a marriage, once validly entered, is permanent and cannot be dissolved by the mere will of one of the parties.  We understand that marriage comes to be through the spouses’ act of consent to bind themselves to one another in a marriage bond which is in accord with God’s plan for a permanent, exclusive union, open to the possibility of the generation of children.  We presume in favor of the validity of all marriages, but we recognize, in our theology and law, that a party’s marriage consent may have been insufficient in some fundamental way.  Therefore, we enumerate reasons for possible nullity of marriage, and we apply legal procedures by which a party, following a civil divorce, might seek to prove the nullity of a marriage and, having proved this fact, proceed to enter a new marriage which can be recognized by the Catholic Church.

Our current procedures are designed to allow parties to proceed carefully toward determining the truth about a marriage which has broken up, and with the protection of the rights of both parties.  In our diocesan tribunal, we have for over thirty years made use of a provision which is now being made normative for the whole world: that cases are usually to be judged by a single judge who is an ordained person, instead of by a panel of three judges.  Our procedures are to be streamlined further as the directives of Pope Francis take effect.  One outstanding new provision is the sufficiency of one decision in favor of nullity; no longer will there be a requirement for two decisions in favor of nullity from two Church courts.  Our system of courts of appeal will, however, remain in place.

Pope Francis has directed local tribunals to provide their legal services at no cost to parties.  We are happy to do this.  Formerly, we have had the custom of asking petitioners, as far as they are able, to contribute to the meeting of the expenses of the diocesan tribunal, and we have never delayed the administration of justice because of non-payment on a petitioner’s part.  We rely upon the continued generosity of Catholic Christians so that we may meet the expenses associated with this judicial work.

The directives of Pope Francis will require careful study by our tribunal officials as we prepare to put them into effect. As we do so, we recognize and hold in prayer the numerous people who have endured great pain as the result of the break-up of a marriage.  We pray that the whole People of God will be dedicated to the task of fostering healthy marriages and encouraging the healing which we all require, as we rely upon the Lord Jesus, the Judge who gently leads us into growth as human beings.

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4 comments to Bishop Paprocki on Pope Francis’ Annulment Reform

  • Jean Noel

    Hastening the process is different from rubber stamping anyone who asks for an annulment. In that case, we are just like the Protestants endorsing divorce, which weakens the holy bond of matrimony. We must be careful to protect the institution of family which is being bombarded from all sides—secular and religious.

  • Mrs. Maureen Avila

    I am very suspect of the “streamlining” of annulments mostly because Pope Saint John Paul II, considered rather expert on the subject of Catholic marriage, on at least 2 occasions spoke out publically against the too lenient application of the ” psychological immaturity ” reason for declaring invalidity of marriage due to insufficient consent. Soon to be declared a Doctor of the Church, it seems he possessed a rather thorough knowledge of marriage which he wrote extensively about, and he said that the psychological maturity needed to contract a valid marriage consisted in understanding the sexual difference between a man and a woman and that the sex act, which they need to be willing and able to perform can result in children that they must be willing to bear and raise, and that marriage is exclusive of other partners and lasts until the death of one of the partners.
    I admire Bishop Paprocki for his speaking out about the problems created by the homosexual lifestyle, including the murder of his former secretary, but I suspect that his diocese might be a little bit lax re annulments.

  • Maria Aznar

    I believe now, and have always believed, that the Catholic Church is our Spiritual Mother, wise, loving, and merciful, but also courageous, virtuous, and divinely inspired. The Magisterium has been given to us to teach us to live by God’s Word, to show us the way to heaven, the holiness and perfection we must strive to achieve to be in union with Jesus Christ Our Lord.

    To me, deviations from the Word of God, passed down through so many generations, are slippery slopes, cracks in the seamless wall of sanctity and self-sacrifice, the widening of the narrow door that we must go through to enter heaven.

    We need to pray for the Pope and for the Church. The freedom God calls us to live by is the choosing of His Law, His Gospel, His Will. Never are we allowed to make it easy, more accessible, less painful. Jesus suffered torture and was crucified to show us this, that we MUST go to Calvary to be crucified with Him so that we will abide in Him for all eternity. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever…! +

  • Mariann

    I have not read and prayed and listened to anyone yet on Pope Francis’ The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge (uh-oh, different translation already in the title? The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge). Starting everyone on the same page before marriage would be where to start in my opinion. Instead, we’re starting at the end of what was never valid in the first place? Our Church, basically the Bishops, need to restate how to prepare (and how NOT to prepare…like fornication) for a sacramental marriage. Church teaching must be clearly taught, uniformly, and not undermined by anyone in the spotlight, less they be publicly excommunicated. A solid Catholic foundation must be known by all before altering any process of nullity. Bishops and Priests need to be certain both the husband-to-be and wife-to-be are fully aware of all morality claimed by them and agreed upon till death. Perhaps when we have the unity we are supposed to have vs. the Catholic universities and colleges off in their own world, politicians, movie stars and music stars standing up for abortion, contraception, PP, fornication, same sex sex and unions, and media constantly bombarding Catholic onlookers with anti-Catholic living, yes, perhaps, then would be wise. Until then, it will now be up for grabs in far too many circumstances as is everything else going on in our “Catholic” lives. How very sad. Please, forgive us Lord.

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