VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A diocesan bishop is the sole judge
in the streamlined process for handling marriage annulments, Pope Francis said.
The simplified process "is not an option that the
diocesan bishop can choose, but rather an obligation that derives from his
consecration and from the mission received," making the bishop the sole
and exclusive authority in charge throughout the three phases of the briefer process,
the pope said.
The pope made his remarks during an audience Nov. 25 with
canon lawyers, priests and pastoral workers attending a course sponsored by the
Roman Rota, a Vatican tribunal that mainly deals with marriage annulment cases.
The pope encouraged them to be close to those who are
suffering and who expect help "to restore peace to their consciences and
God's will on readmission to the Eucharist."
The new process "is an expression of the church that
is able to welcome and care for those who are wounded in various ways by life
and, at the same time, it is an appeal for the defense of the sacredness of the
marriage bond," he said.
Pope Francis used the occasion to clarify and strongly emphasize
how a bishop should not delegate completely the duty of deciding marriage cases
to the offices of his curia, especially in the streamlined process for handling
cases of clear nullity that were established with new norms that took effect at
the end of 2015. The norms were outlined in two papal documents, "Mitis
Iudex Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge") for
the Latin-rite church and "Mitis et misericors Iesus," ("The
Meek and Merciful Jesus") for the Eastern Catholic churches.
Pointing out the clear role of the diocesan bishop as sole
judge in the briefer process was meant to help apply the new laws and
increasingly recover an appropriate practice of synodality, he said.
The diocesan bishop has always been charged with
exercising judicial power personally or through others; but, the pope
said, that principle has been interpreted in such a way that the bishop no
longer personally exercises that power and delegates "almost everything to
Given the unique nature of the abbreviated process in
determining the nullity of marriages, the pope set out a number of points that
he deemed to be "decisive and exclusive in the personal exercise of the role
of judge by the diocesan bishop."
The abbreviated process was instituted not to facilitate
annulments, but to simplify and speed up the processes necessary to determine
and declare the truth about the nullity of a marriage, in other words,
declaring that it never existed as a valid sacrament.
The changes, the pope wrote in 2015, were motivated by
"concern for the salvation of souls," and particularly "charity
and mercy" toward those who feel alienated from the church because of
their marriage situations and the perceived complexity of the church's