On Tuesday, Pope Francis radically changed the process of how Catholics annul their marriages, streamlining the process that parishioners considered too cumbersome and expensive.
His move was the latest in a series of reforms aimed at making the church more accommodating to the needs of its members.
Without an annulment, when a Catholic would remarry, he or she would not be allowed to receive Holy Communion, a painful exclusion for many.
The Vatican's announcement comes weeks before Francis' first-ever visit to the United States. According to CNN, Americans accounted for about half of the annulments granted in 2012 (latest statistics available), which there were nearly 50,000.
Main changes announced on Tuesday were:
- The second review for annulments has been eliminated.
- Bishops can fast-track and grant annulments under certain circumstances, such as domestic violence and adultery.
- With the exception of a nominal fee for administrative costs, the process should be free and completed within 45 days.
Francis' reforms came in the form of two motu proprio documents, which is Latin for the Pope's own initiative. They shall become a part of Catholic canon law on Dec. 8, the beginning of what Francis declared the "Year of Mercy."
Referring to Tuesday's announcement, one prominent Catholic priest said that it was an act of mercy from a Pope who listens carefully to the concerns of the people.
Francis has said that the annulment process was too onerous, and that it could drag on for years and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
In 2014 Francis said that some procedures were so long and burdensome.
According to the General Social Survey, in the U.S., 28% of Catholic marriages end in divorce. While that's lower than the general population, it's still equivalent to 11 million people.
If a divorced Catholic doesn't obtain an annulment but they remarry, they are considered an adulterer and may not participate is certain sacraments, including Holy Communion.
Tuesday's announcement is another step forward for the Catholic Church and Francis' efforts towards creating a more inclusive church that has left some feeling excluded over abortion, divorce, and homosexuality.