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Annulments: What is really changing?: The abbreviated process

November 5, 2015
Msgr. Michael Padazinski

Part 5 of 5

On Sept. 8, 2015, Pope Francis issued “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge,”) a document revising the marriage nullity process. The mass media, including even some Catholic news outlets, have reported a great deal of misinformation about the changes. In question-and-answer format over the next few weeks, I would like to reflect on various aspects of this new “motu proprio” responding to some logical questions which have been raised since publication. It is my hope that this will help to clarify some misinformation about the new legislation while reassuring the faithful of the Archdiocese of San Francisco that our own metropolitan tribunal, which is comprised of wonderful canonists and other canonical officials, will do all it can to insure the proper, just and timely implementation of these new norms governing our universal church.

It is important to state at the outset, that there are still questions abounding among canonists and what follows will hopefully be of assistance to any who are interested in the new laws regulating the marriage nullity process while acknowledging that further guidance from Rome to assist local tribunals with the new praxis is anticipated.

The entire article containing 21 questions and answers has been posted online at www.catholic-sf.org. This is the fourth of five installments scheduled to appear in the print paper. Previous installments covered the definition and purpose of the marriage nullity process; and elimination of automatic appeal. The final installment will concern fees and implementation of the new law.


19. Why does our tribunal currently charge for a declaration of nullity?

We don’t! Justice can’t be bought or sold. What many tribunals do as a matter of fairness, fully in keeping with canon law, is pass on some portion of their expenses (salaries, supplies, office space) to the parties who request their services, and this is what we have done here in the past. If the costs are borne by the parties involved in the case, it has to be borne by the church, which ultimately means by the other people in the pews. As far back as I can recall, our metropolitan tribunal has always asked the parties of the case to assist in defraying the actual costs of the process. However, no one is ever denied their rights due to difficulty or inability to pay. Anyone who demonstrates the need for a partial or total reduction of fees receives one and the fee we request only covers a fraction of the actual costs to process the case. Church tribunals operate at a heavy loss.


20. What did Pope Francis change with regard to tribunal fees and why?

Pope Francis didn’t exactly eliminate all tribunal fees, but he said that the process should be gratuitous whenever that can be done without harming the right of tribunal workers to a just wage. He is asking bishops’ conferences and local bishops to do their best to make them gratuitous to the parties (of course, they are never free; the costs are just made up from elsewhere). He has two reasons for this. First, he wants to make sure that nobody is ever discouraged from exercising their rights due to cost. Even though partial or total reductions have always been granted liberally in our diocese (and many others) to anyone who needs them, Pope Francis doesn’t even want the misconception about expense to be an obstacle. Second, he wants to be sure that tribunals are immune from even the slightest suspicion of financial corruption. There is no doubt that that suspicion sometimes exists among the faithful, even though (in our country at least) it is unfounded almost to the point of absurdity.


21. When and how is the new law going to be implemented in the Archdiocese of San Francisco?

As already noted, the law comes into effect on Dec. 8. Our tribunal will do its best to implement it fully by that time, but there are a lot of adjustments to be made. In the meantime, our heavy caseload continues to progress at full speed. Feel free to call or email the tribunal with general questions or questions about your case and we will respond as quickly and fully as we are able, but please be patient with us. If you have a case pending, trust us to contact to you if these changes in the law will have an important bearing on your case.

It is my hope that this short article has helped to assuage any anxiousness surrounding the revision of the marriage nullity process. May these new regulations be seen as an invitation to others who may be in an irregular marriage to consider availing themselves to the nullity process if they believe that there are canonical grounds which may have affected the validity of their marriage.

Msgr. Padazinski is the chancellor of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and judicial vicar of the metropolitan tribunal of the archdiocese.

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