Reforms instituted by Pope Francis making it easier for Catholics to have their marriages annulled is not divorce, but a mirror of the all-embracing vision of mercy and compassion of the papacy, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) clarified on Wednesday.
“It is mercy and compassion that explains his action and work. Pope Francis in his words, gestures and teachings shows us the face of the clement judge who is Jesus Christ Himself,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, said.
“The teaching about the indissolubility and unity of marriage remains. The doctrine about the sacredness of marriage and family life is unchanged. The declaration of nullity of marriages is not divorce,” the prelate added.
Villegas issued the clarification in reaction to insinuations that the Pope’s latest Apostolic LetterMitis Iudex Dominus Jesus (translated “The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge), as a de facto introduction of Church-approved divorce.
He explained that the Pope is reaching out to Catholics who suffer quietly from the bond and obligations of a married life that is null and void from the moment that it was entered into because requirements for the valid reception of matrimony were not present.
“The process has been simplified and dramatically shortened. The matrimonial tribunals must be brought closer to the people; in fact each diocese is mandated to have such marriage courts with the Bishop as the symbol of Christ the Lawgiver and Judge,” Villegas said.
The CBCP has the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal, which handles cases of annulment for Catholic marriages. Such cases come from lower tribunals of the Catholic Church.
Former CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, the first judicial vicar and presiding judge of the Marimonial Tribunal, earlier said there were about 150 marriage cases filed every year.
By and large, Cruz added, grounds for nullity have been force and fear, mental disorder, volition adversity, emotional impairment and socio-economic immaturity.
The Family Code of the Philippines provides for legal separation or annulment of marriage but not divorce.
Under the law, legal separation does not nullify the couple’s marriage vows and neither could remarry again.
Annulment, on the other hand, allows a separated couple to remarry but it requires stringent requirements, is costly and takes a long time before it could be granted.
Cruz said the Church accepts that there is a marriage that is null and void from the start, which after a proper judicial process is declared null and void.
He, however, adds that the Church does not honor “annulment” and “divorce.”