Pope speeds up, simplifies process for marriage annulments

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has radically reformed the Catholic Church's process for annulling marriages, allowing for fast-track decisions and removing automatic appeals in a bid to speed up and simplify the procedure.

Francis issued a new law Tuesday regulating how bishops around the world determine when a fundamental flaw has made a marriage invalid. Catholics must get this church annulment if they want to remarry in the church.

But the process has long been criticized for being complicated, costly and out of reach for many Catholics.

The biggest reform involves a new fast-track procedure, handled by the bishop himself, that can be used when both spouses request an annulment. It can also be used when other proof makes a more drawn-out investigation unnecessary.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) — Caroline Fountain spoke with the local diocese about how this will affect the faithful in our area.

The sacraments, like going to mass and receiving communion, are the cornerstone of the Catholic Church. But if you're divorced and remarried without getting an annulment, you're not allowed to receive them. Jim Guzzio says he recently went through the annulment process.

"I wanted to get remarried very badly, but I wanted to do it in the Catholic Church. I didn't want a previous marriage to keep me from good standing with the Catholic Church," said Guzzio.

Pope Francis announced a new law which streamlines the annulment process. For example, if both spouses agree to the annulment, the bishop can fast track a judgment in just 45 days. That’s much quicker than Christine Pearson has seen in her Catholic initiation classes.

"Some have gotten it as quick as a year. Some have been two to four years. Others gave up on the process and decided that's not what they wanted to do," said Pearson.

Right now, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte sees around 300 marriage annulments every year. With the pope streamlining the process, the diocese expects that number will likely go up.

"It's good to be married again in the Catholic Church. That was very important to me and my wife. Having that ability to do that and still participate in the Catholic religion is a huge thing," said Guzzio.

The new law also reduces the cost of an annulment.

This pope has become well-known for changes such as this. Some Catholics say it's about time.

“This is the kind of pope we need. We need the compassion. We need the love. It has to be this way," said Guia Villapando, a Catholic who attends St. Peter’s.

This announcement follows another big decision made last week in which Pope Francis said he will be allowing all priests to grant absolution to women who have had an abortion.

That goes into effect December 8th and continues for the duration of the 2016 Year of Mercy.