Important Information About Recent Changes in the Procedural Law Governing Marriage-Nullity Cases
Hello, priests, deacons, and all other pastoral ministers,
I am sure you are aware that Pope Francis recently announced some changes in the procedural law which governs our processing of marriage-nullity cases. These changes go into effect on December 8, 2015. I wish to stress the following:
Marriage-nullity processes will still take many months to complete. As of December 8, 2015, decisions in favor of marriage nullity issuing from our diocesan tribunal will not require a second conforming decision from another tribunal. This change alone will make the entire process approximately three months shorter than people had been experiencing in recent years. Media references to faster processes refer to provisions of the new law which we are still studying. As in the past, it will still take many months to assure that the rights of both parties are guaranteed and all necessary information is gathered for a just decision. The Court of Appeals of the Province of Chicago is still receiving first-instance affirmative decisions for the possibility of the second-instance confirmation which is still required by law before an affirmative decision takes effect.
The Office for Tribunal Services will not, as of December 8, 2015, be charging fees for processing of marriage-nullity cases, but will accept donations. As noted on our stationery, this office is “supported by the Annual Catholic Services Appeal,” by which the Catholic Christians of our diocese meet the expenses of diocesan administration. Pope Francis himself, upon issuing these changes, stated that fees are not to be charged for this work. Still, he recognizes that the functioning of diocesan tribunals relies upon meeting necessary expenses, including just remuneration of those who work in the tribunal. Therefore, we do invite donations from petitioners for helping the people of the local Church to meet these expenses. In your interactions with petitioners, please stress that donations are for meeting expenses of running an office, and donations or the lack thereof do not influence the outcome of the process.
Changes in procedural law apply only to marriage nullity cases -- not to Pauline or Petrine dissolutions. The Diocese will, of course, cease its fee for Pauline cases. We do not have word from the Marriage Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome regarding any modification in its current fee of 475 U.S. dollars.
Competence, simplified. According to the new law, the sources of competence are: place of contract; domicile or quasi-domicile of either party; location of witnesses. Requesting consent to our claiming competence from another diocese has been dropped from the law. The new law also clarifies that ligamen and non-observance-of-form cases fall under the rules of competence.
At this point I am not ready to announce any gatherings for the purpose of reviewing the new law in detail. I hope that these observations will help you as we all move together into a law modified in order to be more responsive to the needs of parties in marriage-nullity cases.
Tribunal Services protects persons' rights and determines their status in the Church, in accord with its purpose in the Code of Canon Law.
In practice in our diocese, Tribunal Services serves those who seek to enter a new marriage after a former marriage has ended in divorce by determining whether or not the former marriage is invalid or is able to be dissolved.