Pope Francis on Absolution and Annulments
In the past couple of weeks there has been a barnstorm of media coverage swirling around a few announcements made by Pope Francis concerning new procedures that will begin December 8th with the year of Mercy. The two most notable are the world wide faculty that will be given to priests to reconcile women with the Church who have directly procured an abortion, and the new regulations for the processing of cases of Annulment in local Dioceses.
As is usual the secular media rarely understands these Church related issues in their essence and so the reporting often focuses on trying to produce sensational headlines that don’t really help Catholics in the pew understand what these developments mean.
The faculty for removing the penalty of excommunication and for absolving from the sin of abortion:
First it is necessary to say that the process by which the reconciliation comes about is being simplified; there is not a change in the Church’s teaching about the sanctity of Human life in the womb. There are certain serious sins, such as those concerning direct sacrilege against the Eucharist and the direct taking of human life in the womb that are considered as not only sins that separate us from the Sanctifying Grace, and so prevent us from receiving Holy Communion, but also separate us from union with the Church. An excommunication is incurred by committing the action. In those cases, the person must appeal to the Pope (as in the Eucharist) or to the Bishop (in the case of Abortion) to first be readmitted to the Church, so that they may then receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. A Bishop may delegate the faculty to his priests for the sake of helping the healing process to begin more quickly and confidentially. This faculty has been granted by most Bishops in the United States for decades. Unfortunately because abortion is so wide spread in the United States, the Bishops here found it necessary long ago to grant this faculty to priests who have the faculty (power) to remove excommunication and grant absolution in confession. What Pope Francis has done is extended this permission to remove excommunication to every priest in the world who has the faculty to hear confessions. So really for those of us in the United States, this doesn’t really change anything. Please pray that the attention this is giving to the situation will prompt those who have been so separated to seek reconciliation.
The new regulations for the processing of cases of Annulment in local Dioceses.
Again, despite the media’s insistence, the Church does not change its teachings about the Sanctity and Permanence of Marriage.
As we know, if the Sacrament of Matrimony was validly received, the couple is bound permanently until the death of one of the spouses. A declaration of Nullity is a statement by the Church that for some grave reason, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony was not received validly even though someone went through the marriage ceremony. Therefore, the person is not bound to the marriage and in many cases free to seek a valid Sacramental Marriage in the Church.
Pope Francis has made some modifications in the way the process of Annulment works in a diocese, and not a change in what constitutes a validly binding marriage. As the process currently works, when an annulment case is accepted and approved by the tribunal of the local diocese, it must automatically be presented to the tribunal of another diocese for a complete review. After December 8, 2015, the local Bishop will be more directly involved in judging the cases. He will be able to grant decrees of nullity in obvious cases without an automatic review of the case by another tribunal. The local diocesan tribunal will have responsibility for the more complex cases, likewise without a review of the case by the tribunal of a second diocese. This should streamline the process in many cases, and hopefully bring many people back into the Sacraments, and that is the goal of the year of Mercy.