On Tues., Sept. 8, 2015, Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters or Motu Proprio which deal with questions of Marriage nullity. One of the Motu Proprio, known by its Latin title, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus – or “The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge” – reforms the Code of Canon Law concerning the procedure in adjudicating marriage cases in the Latin Church, while the other, Mitis et misericors Iesus or “Clement and merciful Jesus” – is for the Code of Canon Law for Oriental Churches.
The new procedures came out as a result of a study on the current state of law and practice in the Church as far as marriage law is concerned. Pope Francis decreed and instituted that the Book VI of the Code of Canon Law (part III, title I, chapter I) on processes for the declaration of the nullity of marriage (canons 1671 to 1691) will be entirely substituted by the new norms, which will come into effect on the beginning of the Year of Mercy – Dec. 8, 2015.
But, what is an annulment? It refers to an official declaration by the appropriate Ecclesiastical Tribunal of the Catholic Church that what appeared to be a sacramental marriage was, in fact, not. An annulment, or a declaration of nullity as it is correctly named in Church law, does not deny that a relationship really existed. A declaration of nullity means that the consent exchanged at the wedding fell short of at least one of the essential elements for a binding union. An annulment is not a Church divorce. A civil divorce decree breaks a marriage bond. According to the teaching of Christ and the Church, once the parties legitimately and validly exchange their consent, they cannot invalidate it later on at their own will. An annulment is a declaration from the Tribunal that the marriage was invalid from the moment of the wedding.
Two major changes that will entail the annulments are the duration of the process and cost. Annulments are going to be faster and accessible to anyone. Under the direction of our Bishop, the Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz and with collaboration of the Judicial Vicar of the Tribunal, Rev. Anthony C. Celino, J.C.L., it was decided that even though all mandatory changes would begin on December 8, 2015, the Tribunal of the Diocese of El Paso would stop processing any fees for any process held at the Tribunal shortly after Pope Francis made his announcement.
The Tribunal will have two processes regarding annulments. One is the ordinary process and the second one is the briefer matrimonial process before the Bishop. For both processes the length time has been reduced. However, for the briefer process the petition is proposed by both spouses or by one of them, with the consent of the other. Also, the circumstance of things, witnesses with their testimonies and records, which render the nullity manifest, must be presented from the beginning.
The ordinary process has also encountered a new change. Now, a single executive sentence in favor of nullity is effective and a double conforming decision will be no longer necessary. Inspite of these changes, the Respondent will always have the right to appeal the sentence of nullity if it is granted. However, if the appeal clearly appears merely dilatory, the metropolitan court or to the Roman Rota will reject the appeal.
The year of mercy shouldn’t be focused on the changes that the church will confront, but to build the way for the faithful that need help to find their way home back to our Catholic Church. It is the mission of the Diocesan Tribunal to undertake such responsibility and continue with our ministry of mercy. If you have any questions we encourage you to view our diocesan website under the Tribunal ministry and if you want to call us please do it at (915) 872-8402.