Matrimonial nullity trial reforms of Pope Francis

Last updated

Scale of justice, canon law.svg
Part of a series on the
Canon law of the
Catholic Church
046CupolaSPietro.jpg   Catholicismportal

The matrimonial nullity trial reforms of Pope Francis are the reforms of Catholic canon law governing such trials, made public 8 September 2015. The reforms were effected by two separate apostolic letters [1] from Pope Francis, the motu proprio Mitis iudex dominus Iesus amending the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and the motu proprio Mitis et misericors Iesus amending the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. [2] This was in response to the bishops who, during the Synod on the Family of 5-9 October 2014, called for simplification of the procedure whereby a legally invalid marriage is declared null. [3]

At the press conference announcing the reforms, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, emphasized that the church does not decree the "annulment" of a legally valid marriage, but rather declares the "nullity" of a legally invalid marriage. [4]

Scope of the reforms

There are three main reforms: [5]

  1. A cleric's "second review" before nullity can be declared was eliminated. [5]
  2. Bishops now have the authority to declare nullity themselves, and in a more efficient manner. [5]
  3. The process should be gratis, as long as the tribunal workers can still be paid a just wage. [6]

The reforms took legal effect on 8 December 2015. [7]

The expedited process may take as few as 120 days. [6]

History of the reforms

The reforms were proposed by a group of experts in matrimonial jurisprudence. [2] According to experts at the Vatican, they are the most expansive revision in matrimonial nullity jurisprudence in centuries. [1] The reforms are a departure from the 18th-century matrimonial nullity reforms of the canonist Pope Benedict XIV. [1]


Austen Ivereigh described the reforms as "revolutionary" and says that they are the broadest reforms in 300 years. [1]

Kurt Martens, a canon law professor, worries that the reduction in procedure will not guarantee a fair trial. [1] He likened the reforms to the Catholic Church providing a means of no-fault divorce. [1] In an article published by conservative religious journal First Things , Martens stated that many Italian jurists fear that there might be a spike in conflicts between the canonical, Italian, and European Union judicial systems, since the reforms abolish a number of "basic due process norms" which are neither respected nor acknowledged. In his view, this renders the canonical judicial system "incompatible" with modern judicial procedure. [8]

Pope Francis reflected after the 2014 Synod on the Family that: "A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming, and, if possible, at no expense." [7] Between 1970 and 1983 the United States bishops had experimented with the possibility of one rather than two hearings and 90% of the cases were decided without the second tribunal. But the Code of Canon Law of 1983 eliminated this possibility, now restored through Pope Francis' revisions. [9] Others saw that "Putting the poor at the centre is what distinguishes the reform of Pope Francis." [10] In the words of the motu proprio : "Care is to be taken that everyone, parties or witnesses, can participate in the process at a minimum of cost." [11]

Related Research Articles

The Roman Curia comprises the administrative institutions of the Holy See and the central body through which the affairs of the Catholic Church are conducted. It acts in the pope's name and with his authority for the good and for the service of the particular churches and provides the central organization for the church to advance its objectives.

In law, motu proprio describes an official act taken without a formal request from another party. Some jurisdictions use the term sua sponte for the same concept.

The Roman Rota, formally the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, and anciently the Apostolic Court of Audience, is the highest appellate tribunal of the Catholic Church, with respect to both Latin-rite members and the Eastern-rite members and is the highest ecclesiastical court constituted by the Holy See related to judicial trials conducted in the Catholic Church. An appeal may be had to the pope himself, who is the supreme ecclesiastical judge. The Catholic Church has a complete legal system, which is the oldest in the West still in use. The court is named Rota (wheel) because the judges, called auditors, originally met in a round room to hear cases. The Rota was established in the 13th century.

An episcopal conference, sometimes called a conference of bishops, is an official assembly of the bishops of the Catholic Church in a given territory. Episcopal conferences have long existed as informal entities. The first assembly of bishops to meet regularly, with its own legal structure and ecclesial leadership function, is the Swiss Bishops' Conference, which was founded in 1863. More than forty episcopal conferences existed before the Second Vatican Council. Their status was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council and further defined by Pope Paul VI's 1966 motu proprio, Ecclesiae sanctae.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches is the title of the 1990 codification of the common portions of the Canon Law for the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in the Catholic Church. It is divided into 30 titles and has a total of 1546 canons. The western Latin Church is governed by its own particular code of canons, the 1983 Codex Iuris Canonici.

The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura is the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church. In addition, it oversees the administration of justice in the church.

In the Catholic Church, a declaration of nullity, commonly called an annulment and less commonly a decree of nullity, is a judgment on the part of an ecclesiastical tribunal determining that a marriage was invalidly contracted or, less frequently, a judgment determining that ordination was invalidly conferred.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law, also referred to as the Pio-Benedictine Code, was the first official comprehensive codification of Latin canon law. It was promulgated on 27 May 1917 and took legal effect on 19 May 1918. It was in force until the 1983 Code of Canon Law took legal effect and abrogated it on 27 November 1983. It has been described as "the greatest revolution in canon law since the time of Gratian".

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, also called the Johanno-Pauline Code, is the "fundamental body of ecclesiastical laws for the Latin Church". It is the second and current comprehensive codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Church sui iuris of the Catholic Church. It was promulgated on 25 January 1983 by John Paul II and took legal effect on the First Sunday of Advent 1983. It replaced the 1917 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Benedict XV on 27 May 1917.

The law of Vatican City State consists of many forms, the most important of which is the canon law of the Catholic Church. The organs of state are governed by the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State. The Code of Penal Procedure governs tribunals and the Lateran Treaty governs relations with the Italian Republic.

Episcopal conference of Bulgaria is an ecclesiastical institution, consisting of bishops of the Catholic dioceses in the country. It is bi-ritual because it includes in its composition dioceses in Latin and Byzantine-Slavic rites. Episcopal Conference in Bulgaria is the governing body of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria and performs almost the same features as the Holy Synod in Orthodox churches.

The legal history of the Catholic Church is the history of the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the West, much later than Roman law but predating the evolution of modern European civil law traditions. The history of Latin canon law can be divided into four periods: the jus antiquum, the jus novum, the jus novissimum and the Code of Canon Law. In relation to the Code, history can be divided into the jus vetus and the jus novum. Eastern canon law developed separately.

The term ratum sed non consummatum or ratum et non consummatum refers to a juridical-sacramental category of marriage in Catholic matrimonial canon law. If a matrimonial celebration takes place (ratification) but the spouses have not yet engaged in intercourse (consummation), then the marriage is said to be a marriage ratum sed non consummatum. The Tribunal of the Roman Rota has exclusive competence to dispense from marriages ratum sed non consummatum, which can only be granted for a "just reason". This process should not be confused with the process for declaring the nullity of marriage, which is treated of in a separate title of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

In the Roman Catholic Church, collegiality refers to "the Pope governing the Church in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches, respecting their proper autonomy." In the early church the popes exercised moral authority rather than administrative power, and that authority was relatively limited; regional churches elected their own bishops, resolved disputes in local synods, and only felt the need to appeal to the Pope under special circumstances.

A decree is, in a general sense, an order or law made by a superior authority for the direction of others. In the usage of the canon law of the Catholic Church, it has various meanings. Any papal Bull, Brief, or Motu Proprio is a decree inasmuch as these documents are legislative acts of the Pope. In this sense the term is quite ancient. The Roman Congregations were formerly empowered to issue decrees in matters which come under their particular jurisdiction, but were forbidden from continuing to do so under Pope Benedict XV in 1917. Each ecclesiastical province, and also each diocese may issue decrees in their periodical synods within their sphere of authority.

Oriental canon law is the law of the 23 Catholic sui juris (autonomous) particular churches of the Eastern Catholic tradition. Oriental canon law includes both the common tradition among all Eastern Catholic Churches, now chiefly contained in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, as well as the particular law proper to each individual sui juris particular Eastern Catholic Church. Oriental canon law is distinguished from Latin canon law, which developed along a separate line in the remnants of the Western Roman Empire, and is now chiefly codified in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Catholic canon law is the set of rules and principles (laws) by which the Catholic Church is governed, through enforcement by governmental authorities. Law is also the field which concerns the creation and administration of laws.

Vos estis lux mundi is a motu proprio by Pope Francis, promulgated on 9 May 2019. It establishes new procedural norms to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions. It establishes universal norms, which apply to the whole church. The law is effective for a three-year experimental period, coming into force on 1 June 2019.

Dignitas connubii is an instruction issued by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on 25 January 2005 on the discipline to be observed in diocesan and interdiocesan tribunals regarding causes of the nullity of marriage. It was compiled in close concert with dicasteries that have a related competence, namely, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. It was partially obrogated by the matrimonial nullity trial reforms of Pope Francis in 2015, but remains in effect.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pope Francis announces biggest changes to annulment process in centuries, The Washington Post, accessed 8 September 2015
  2. 1 2 "Pope Francis reforms Church law in marital nullity trials", Vatican Radio, accessed 8 September 2015.
  3. "Articles from Catholic University of America Workshop, March 2016" . Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  4. "Press conference details marriage law reforms", Vatican Radio, accessed 8 September 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 Pope Francis makes annulment of marriages cheaper and easier,, accessed 8 September 2015
  6. 1 2 "Frequently Asked Questions Re: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus". Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  7. 1 2 Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 things to know and share Archived 9 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine , Catholic Answers, accessed 8 September 2015
  8. New Norms for Marriage Nullity, Kurt Martens, 4 December 2015; accessed 6 December 2015
  9. Green, Emma. "Thanks to Pope Francis, It's Now Easier to Get Your Marriage Officially Annulled in the Church". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  10. "Pope Francis reforms annulment process". The Catholic Weekly. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  11. "Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus by which the canons of the Code of Canon Law pertaining to cases regarding the nullity of marriage are reformed (15 August 2015) | Francis". Article 7,2. Retrieved 15 July 2017.