Pope Francis says that justice has to be a primary value in the Church’s annulment processes.
He said this in brief, spontaneous remarks given Wednesday before the general audience to those participating in a course offered by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on “Instructing a Case for the Dispensation of a Marriage ‘Super rato et non consumato’” -valid, but unconsummated marriages.
A streamlining of the annulment process was one of the points discussed at the synod on the family. Just before the synod, the Pope already established a commission to study the issue.
In his address Wednesday, he lamented that some people wait for years for a judgment from the Church regarding the validity of their marriage.
An annulment recognizes that some element necessary to perform a valid marriage was absent at the time of the ceremony (such as free will or understanding of the obligation), and thus the marriage never actually occurred.
Some annulment procedures are “so long or so burdensome” that people “give up,” Pope Francis noted.
He offered as an example a situation in his former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, where the tribunal could be 240 kilometers (150 miles) away from the couple’s home diocese.
For “simple, ordinary people,” he said, such a trip and its implied costs and days absent from work might be excessively burdensome.
So, he reflected, these people instead say, “God understands me, and so I will continue this way, with this weight in my soul.”
“Mother Church must do justice,” the Pope affirmed, and give a judgement, saying “Yes, it’s true, your marriage is null – [or] No, your marriage is valid.” But it is just to say it. So [these couples] can go ahead without this doubt, this darkness in their souls.”
The Pope also spoke against abuses in the cost of the annulment process.
He explained: “Some time ago I had to dismiss from the tribunal a person who said: ‘$10,000 and I will do the two procedures for you, the civil and the ecclesiastical.’ Please, not this!”
The Pope recalled that at the synod on the family last month, there was discussion about making the annulment process free.
“This must be looked at,” he said, “For when spiritual interests are attached to the economic, this isn’t from God! Mother Church has so much generosity to be able to do justice gratuitously, just as we have been gratuitously justified by Jesus Christ.”
The Pontiff concluded by thanking the participants in the course for their work.
“There must be study and a going forward,” he said, “always seeking the salus animarum, which does not necessarily have to be found outside of justice but, rather, with justice.”
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