On September 8, 2015, Pope Francis announced a major reform of the Catholic Church’s procedures by which a marriage is declared null. This reform is outlined in his letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Gentle Judge, the Lord Jesus), which affects the Latin Code of Canon Law, and in a second letter, Mitis et Misericors Iesus (The Meek and Merciful Jesus), which affects the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
On December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the changes in Church law went into effect. The newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Catholic New World, published an interview of Tribunal personnel detailing some of the changes. The following points are highlights from that interview:
-The Tribunal here can accept a case – without having to contact another diocese -- if any of the following applies: if you live within the Archdiocese of Chicago (Cook or Lake Counties, Illinois), if the other party (the respondent) lives here, or if the wedding took place here.
-Pope Francis does not want the cost of the process to stop anyone from undertaking it and has called on tribunals worldwide to limit fees for administrative costs. Indeed a person does not “pay for an annulment.” Rather, fees are requested to pay for the expenses associated with the procedure: i.e., the printing of documents, utility bills, postage and the wages of tribunal personnel. The estimated administrative cost in the Archdiocese of Chicago is approximately $3,000. Currently, the Tribunal requests that the petitioner pay, if possible, $900, or one third of the cost, with payments being made over a period of time. This Tribunal has never rejected a person’s petition because he or she has been unable to pay the entire amount or even a portion of it.
-Pope Francis has also initiated an abbreviated procedure in which some of the more time-consuming formalities of the ordinary process can be omitted without compromising the integrity of the process. Keep in mind that three strict conditions must be met before this process could be considered: 1) Both spouses have to petition for the declaration of nullity together, or the other party must at least in written form consent to it. 2) All relevant information is readily available. 3) The information submitted clearly demonstrates that the marriage is null. (The Judicial Vicar would determine whether or not all three criteria are met.) Because of the required conditions for the Abbreviated Process, it is believed that the majority of cases presented to our tribunal will continue to follow the ordinary process.
-An automatic appeal or verification of the initial affirmative decision by the first tribunal (whether this is in the ordinary or the abbreviated process) is no longer required. For the majority of cases, this will now shorten the amount of time it takes to process a case. However, the right to appeal any decision made by a tribunal remains intact.
The entire interview may be accessed at the following web site: www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2015/1129/13.aspx
If you have general questions, please refer to the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) tab found on this page or contact the Tribunal office at 312 534 8280.