Matrimonial nullity trial reforms of Pope Francis

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The matrimonial nullity trial[1] reforms of Pope Francis are the reforms of the Catholic canon law governing the processes for matrimonial nullity trials. These reforms dealing with declaring the nullity of marriage given motu proprio by Pope Francis were made public on 8 September 2015. They were done by two separate apostolic letters,[2] 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.[1]

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.[3]

Scope of the reforms

There are three main reforms:[4]

  1. A cleric's "second review" before nullity can be declared was eliminated[4]
  2. Bishops now have the authority to declare nullity themselves, and in a more efficient manner[4]
  3. The process should be gratis, as long as the tribunal workers can still be paid a just wage.[5]

The reforms took legal effect on 8 December 2015.[6]

The expedited process may take as few as 120 days.[5]

History of the reforms

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


Austen Ivereigh described the reforms as "revolutionary" and says that they are the broadest reforms in 300 years.[2]

Kurt Martens, a canon law professor, worries that the reduction in procedure will not guarantee a fair trial.[2] He likened the reforms to the Catholic Church providing a means of no-fault divorce.[2] In an article published by 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.[7]

U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, raised concerns over the prudence of the reforms, stating that Pope John Paul II, when preparing the 1983 Code of Canon Law, had rejected many of the same reforms accepted by Pope Francis, and cited the centuries of development of the former nullity trial process regarding legal certainty of the truth.[8]


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