Pope Francis' marriage annulment changes ease process, but divorce still forbidden

(Mexico / Reuters)

Getting divorced for Catholics has often meant leaving the church.

It meant Catholics who got divorced could not receive the sacraments as the church does not recognize divorce.

For Catholics to have a marriage that is dissolved to be recognized by the church it has to be annulled.

If there is no annulment, a Catholic who divorces and remarries is deemed to be living in sin and is unable to take communion, the sacrament in which Christians eat blessed bread believed to be the body of Christ.

Pope Francis has announced sweeping revisions to the Catholic Church's marriage annulment process.

He announced changes on Sept. 8 that are designed to simplify and speed up and simplify the often lengthy procedure, The Washington Post reported.

"On Tuesday, Francis rewrote the longstanding church doctrine on annulments, the sometimes expensive and time-consuming process allowing Catholics to confidently re-marry in the church," The Intelligencer reported.

Francis' order "motu proprio," Latin for "on his own impulse," eliminates a secondary review of the process and it gives bishops the option to fast track, and could make the process free for divorcees, the newspaper said.

Vatican Radio said, "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."

The Pope's announcement came about a month before a major Vatican meeting at which Catholic leaders will examine the church's views on family issues, including divorce and remarriage.

The views of relationships and marriage have changed rapidly in recent years with Catholic views also shifting.

The rule changes declared by the Pope do not, however, amend Catholic Church teaching that marriage is permanent.

In the United States where Francis will visit later in September, nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say a household headed by a married mother and father is an ideal situation for bringing up children, a survey by the Pew Research Center has found.

But the Sept. 2 survey shows that large majorities think other kinds of families - those headed by parents who are single, divorced, unmarried or gay - are OK for raising children, too.

"Moreover, many U.S. Catholics would like the Catholic Church, as an institution, to adopt a more flexible or accepting approach toward people who are divorced, cohabiting with a romantic partner outside marriage or in same-sex relationships," the Pew survey found.

It found that 60 per cent say the church should start allowing Catholics who are cohabiting, as well as those who have divorced and remarried without obtaining an annulment, to receive Communion.

(61% and 62%, respectively). And nearly half of Catholics (46%) think the church should recognize same-sex marriages.

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