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Vatican may simplify annulment rules

A new Vatican document containing new rules for church courts that handle requests for declaring a marriage invalid is likely to introduce more rigorous annulment procedures, but may also resolve outstanding issues that have been slowing approval for Catholics seeking to remarry with the church's blessing.

Though the final text is not yet available, experts familiar with the document say a draft version contained a provision that will be of strong ecumenical interest. It would recognize the marriage law of other Christian churches -- especially the Orthodox and Anglican -- as part of Catholic canon law. Thus, if a marriage were nullified under Orthodox law, it would be considered invalid for Catholics as well, and a formal judgment of invalidity would not be needed.

The new document is formally known as an "instruction on the nullity of marriage," and it will replace a previous set of rules for processing annulment requests, called Provida Mater, that dates from 1936, during the pontificate of Pius XI.

Specialists have known for years that a new set of rules was in the works, since John Paul II first requested the project in 1996. It is a joint project of three Vatican offices: the Roman Rota, which is the main ecclesiastical court in the Vatican; the Apostolic Signatura, the church's supreme court; and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

In January 1999, a draft of the document was sent to various bishops' conferences around the world for comment. The three offices held a round of meetings in May and June 2000 to consider the responses.

In mid-March, Cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda announced during a symposium at Rome's Lateran University that the new instruction is now in an "advanced stage."

National Catholic Reporter

29 Apr 2002