By reforming the process for discovering the nullity of marriage on Tuesday, mere weeks before the beginning of October’s Synod on the Family, Pope Francis has taken that issue out of the hands of the synod fathers.
The decision could impact the Synod of Bishops, however, by reducing the perceived need for a quick solution to the issue of granting the divorced-and-remarried access to Communion – since the reformed process may make it easier for many of them to verify the nullity of their first marriage.
Pope Francis had in fact already shown his will to remove the discussion of declarations of nullity from the synod hall: his special commission to study a reform of the matrimonial process was announced Sept. 20, 2014, but had been established a month earlier, on Aug. 27, well before the beginning of October 2014 Synod on the Family.
In any case, the issue was among those discussed at the synod, and Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and one of the members of the commission, addressed the issue in an Oct. 8, 2014 media briefing.
He noted there that the commission’s aim was that of “drafting a proposal of reform of the process on marriage, trying to speed up the procedure, by streamlining it and at the same time safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage,” while distinguishing between a declaration of nullity and the dissolution of a marriage, clarifying that no marriage that is “ratum et consummatum” can be dissolved.
As the upcoming synod will now not have to discuss the issue of declarations of nullity, it is possible that Pope Francis’ decision may also temper the push for a new praxis on admission to Communion for the divorced-and-remarried. At the same time, the motu proprios could alter the terms of the synod’s discussion.
The discussion will probably be refocused on other issues, which could be helped by the new rules for the Synod of Bishops.
A source involved in the Synod of Bishops told CNA Sept. 7 that there will be no midterm report, and each week will be dedicated to the discussion of one of the three parts of the synod’s working document.
After a short general introduction, participants of the Synod will split into small linguistic groups, so that there are many small group discussions, but no general discussion among all of the synod fathers. The small groups will then bring their conclusions to the General Secretariat of the Synod and to the general relator, who would give a final report at the end of the synod, which will be concluded with a speech from the Pope.
Meanwhile, the number of requests for declarations of nullity may increase.
Msgr. Pio Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota and chairman of the commission, addressed this issue in the article he wrote Sept. 8 for L’Osservatore Romano: “Thus Francis, with this fundamental law gives a true start to his reform: putting the poor at the center, that is, the divorced-and-remarried, held or treated as far away, and asking of the bishops a true and proper metanoia. That is, a ‘conversion’, a change of mentality that convinces and undergirds them to follow the invitation of Christ, presented to them in their brother, the Bishop of Rome, to pass from the restricted number of a few thousand declarations of nullity to the huge number of unhappy people who might obtain the declaration of nullity – for the evident lack of faith … but who are left outside the existing system.”