Today two related motu proprio’s were issued which reform the annulment process in both the western and eastern Catholic churches.
As usual Jimmy Akin provides a good summary Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 things to know and share. The documents also have not yet been translated to English.
Canon lawyer Ed Peters also has a A first look at Mitis ludex with more analysis coming later.
What I find more interesting than an attempted streamlining of the annulment process, but the seriousness of the Church’s teaching on marriage. Really only the Catholic church is a champion of the indissolubility of marriage and takes Jesus’ teaching seriously. This is partly true of the Orthodox churches, but in these various churches there have also been some accommodations regarding remarriage.
On the outside people see canon law and the various rules as something piles on and not essential. Yet when you look closer you can see how it is theology that informs it. The Church has thought deeply on Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. This has lead to an understanding that in some cases there is a defect at the beginning that prevented a valid marriage from occurring. A possible lack of consent or intent. The easiest and obvious example being a “shotgun wedding” which would be no marriage at all. What constitutes such an initial defect is something that has developed over time like much of the Church’s theology as it is deepened.
It is also interesting to look at Protestant denominations and non-Christian splits from Christianity regarding how they deal with what Jesus taught on marriage. I am reminded of what Jesus said “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” It is I believe accurate that basically these other denominations and groups have reversed back to Moses. Whenever you talk about Protestantism you can hardly ever lump them all together in making a statement. Still I can’t think of any examples of any kind of investigation into a marriage when there is an attempt at a subsequent marriage after divorce. There is no parallel to the annulment process outside of the Catholic church, except for the Eastern Orthodox churches which have some process (although with some differences regarding the theology of marriage).
Mostly it seems outside the Church marriage and divorce has become something unfortunate, but it would be too much of a burden for people to actually take Jesus’ teaching seriously. The attack on marriage is nothing new and Anglicanism in part flowed from creating a justification for divorce and remarriage. It is very easy to have empathy for people in irregular marriage situations. Listening to a lot of Catholic radio you often hear wrenching stories regarding this. A lot of the kerfuffle regarding the Synod on the Family such as Cardinal Kasper’s suggestions flow from such empathy. Unfortunately such suggestions do not flow from the theology regarding marriage. The legal maxim “Hard cases make bad law” can be restated as “Hard cases make bad theology.”
I have really come to love the Church’s teaching on marriage. Especially as I had initially grasped the idea of the indissolubility of marriage as an atheist. I love how deeply the Church as taught on this and the practical applications that have flowed from it. That is also includes the common sense approach that there should be separation and the allowing of civil divorce in cases of abuse. The Church is really the last defender of the reality of marriage. Not that I am Pollyannish in believing the clergy and the laity have done a bang-up job teaching and living this truth. We all too easily think it is out of hardness of our hearts to not allow divorce when Jesus said the opposite.