The implications of the marriage annulment reforms

While December 8 was being marked in the wider Church as the beginning of the Year of Mercy, for canon lawyers it is, first and foremost, the day the reforms of Mitis Iudex come into force.

Since Pope Francis announced the dramatic changes to the tribunal system for handling marriage nullity cases in September, the Church’s legal community has been frantically trying to prepare itself for the day the changes would take effect, and make no mistake, there has been much to do.

The reforms of Mitis Iudex have been criticised, in some quarters, as an unwarranted and dangerous liberalisation of the process for examining cases of nullity which could seriously jeopardize, even if unintentionally, the indissolubility of marriage, in practice if not in theory.

Some of the concerns about Mitis Iudex were sincere and well founded, others were the product of misunderstanding, and some came from what seemed at times to be deliberate misrepresentations of the content of the reforms and their intent.

As the reforms take effect, it is worth recapping what they are, what concerns have been raised since they were announced, and what steps have already been taken to put them into solid practice.

There were three key procedural changes brought in by Mitis Iudex: the introduction of an abbreviated process for some cases; the abolition of the requirement for a mandatory appeal and a double confirming sentence for all affirmative decisions; and changes to the kind of grounds under which cases could be considered and the standards of proof used in their consideration.

Each of the these three major changes raised a number of serious legal questions, and the last few weeks have been a seemingly endless round of canonical conferences, articles, and letters of clarification from Rome.

But the good news is that some of the major points of confusion, you could even say conflict, have been resolved. Continue reading


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