By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The Diocese of Davenport’s Marriage Tribunal has granted its first shorter process annulment, responding to Pope Francis’ desire for swifter access to the church’s justice and mercy.
“While this shorter process cannot be used in all instances, the procedure does address the pastoral need to move these annulment cases along while respecting the integrity of the sacrament of marriage,” Bishop Martin Amos said. He signed the decree for the first short form annulment Feb. 2, 2016.
Last fall, Pope Francis released two documents pertaining to the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment procedures with the intention of creating a more pastoral process completed in a timelier manner. The shorter process annulment is one piece of the Holy Father’s reform of marriage annulment procedures. In the Davenport Diocese the shorter process is completed in approximately two months, if the paperwork is submitted properly. That compares to approximately 14 months for an annulment requiring more in-depth investigation.
The Holy Father, who has made marriage and family issues a centerpiece of his papacy, doesn’t intend for this quicker process to create a drive-through-restaurant mentality. Granting a short process annulment will be more the exception than the rule, says Father Paul Appel, judicial vicar of the Davenport Diocese’s Marriage Tribunal.
“The shorter process is designed only for those rare cases when it can be employed without injustice. Three strict qualifications have to be met. (1) Both spouses have to petition for it together, or if not, then the other party must at least consent to it. (2) The nullity of the marriage must be manifest. Most marriage nullity cases deal with a defect in marital consent, i.e., with an invisible, internal act of the will placed by the spouses, often several years prior. … (3) All the facts that make the marriage manifestly null have to be readily available.”
Examples of grounds for a shorter process annulment include premarital pregnancy, brevity of conjugal life; lack of faith to give full consent to the sacrament of marriage; persistent infidelity at the time of the wedding or immediately following it; deceitful concealment of sterility, or grave contagious illness, or children from a previous relationship, or incarcerations; an abortion procured to prevent procreation; physical violence inflicted to extort consent; defect of the use of reason, proved by medical documents, etc.
Generally, the shorter process annulment begins in the parish where the petitioner meets with the pastor or another trained advocate. “Here’s what Pope Francis envisioned: he wants more local pastors to be involved with the individuals experiencing this difficult process,” Fr. Appel said. “Those who have gone through divorce often are in need of the pastoral care that the church can offer.”
In some cases, petitioners who are not comfortable sharing their personal life with their pastor will work with a trained advocate outside the parish. Petitioner and advocate go over the facts of the case, gathering evidence and testimony to be presented to the Marriage Tribunal.
The majority of the work is done up front, before coming to the Marriage Tribunal, observed Beth Blough, the tribunal’s auditor. Previously, the main interaction occurred between the petitioner and the tribunal court.
The Davenport Diocese begins all of its shorter process annulments on the second Tuesday of the month. The petitioner and advocate submit evidence to the Marriage Tribunal Court, where Fr. Appel determines whether the case should be a short form process or a formal process. If he determines that the shorter process is appropriate, all additional evidence for the case must be submitted by the following first Tuesday of the month. A hearing is held at that time. Then, on the fourth Tuesday of the Month, the bishop issues his decree. The waiting period provides an opportunity for people to respond or to object, Fr. Appel said. If, for example, the respondent doesn’t consent to the shorter process, the petition becomes a formal case.
Other shorter process annulment petitions are in the works in the Davenport Diocese, Blough said. “Not many dioceses have done this process yet. Thanks to Father Appel and the support of Bishop Amos, we are cutting edge.”
Resources about the annulment process
Diocese of Davenport website, Marriage Tribunal
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: For Your Marriage Website