The revisions of canon law concerning the marriage annulment process promulgated by Pope Francis in his September 8 motu proprio letter Mitis Iudex Dominus Jesus (The Lord Jesus, the Meek Judge) take effect December 8, 2015. Until that date, the annulment process in the Diocese of Trenton will continue as it currently exists and those with cases currently pending will not be affected.
In canon law, valid consent exchanged between one man and one woman makes the marriage valid. NO CHANGE PRESENTED HERE.
Marriages are presumed to be valid unless proven invalid through the annulment process. NO CHANGE PRESENTED HERE.
Annulments are not “divorces, Catholic style.” A divorce is a declaration of civil law that the parties to a marriage have permanently separated because the marriage union has irreparably broken down. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that, despite a divorce according to civil law, the “bond of marriage” cannot be dissolved by any power except death. Divorced Catholics, therefore, are not free to remarry unless: (a) the spouse dies; or (b) an annulment is granted by the Church. An annulment on the other hand is a declaration of canon law that the original consent to marriage was defective to the point that no marriage actually or ever took place. Such a declaration requires investigation and proof. Just as a civil divorce has no effects before the Church, a Church annulment has no effects before civil law. For example, the children of an annulled marriage do not become illegitimate. NO CHANGE PRESENTED HERE.
The only fee attached to the granting of an annulment concerns the costs of services employed in the process (eg., secretarial assistance and salaries in the Tribunal; the use of experts by the Tribunal; office utilities, stationery, communications in the Tribunal; maintenance of the Tribunal, etc.). The Diocese of Trenton requests a $700 contribution for these purposes. Last year, the a Diocese subsidized 2/3 of all Tribunal costs with contributions constituting less than 1/3 of all costs incurred. Pope Francis has not eliminated this fee. He has “recommended” its elimination whenever possible, in accordance with the considerations of the episcopal conference of the country and the ability of Tribunals to support themselves. The total cost of the Tribunal operations to the Diocese was $292,412 last year alone.
The revisions to the annulment process made by Pope Francis that will affect the Diocese of Trenton include:
1. The required automatic appeal of an affirmative decision regarding marriage nullify has been eliminated; parties may make an appeal if they so choose;
2. The process itself has been simplified with the local bishop being granted more authority;
3. The texts of some provisions of canon law have been changed; the revisions are procedural in nature and do not alter Church doctrine;
4. The local bishop has been asked to develop structures for his Diocese that demonstrate an effort to expedite the marriage annulment process. These will be communicated once developed.
The December 8 implementation date provides the Diocese of Trenton with ample lead time to study the revisions further, to discern their consequences and to make any required changes deemed necessary. As Bishop, I do not anticipate the transition to be unduly burdensome. Any effort to make ecclesiastical procedures less bureaucratic and more accessible, without compromise to Church teachings and beliefs, should be seen as positive.
Most Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., J.C.D., Bishop of Trenton