Vatican City: An adviser to the Vatican's high court has warned that Pope Francis' new reform of the church's marriage annulment process raises serious legal questions and could lead to "crises of conscience" for even happily-married Catholics.
Canon lawyer Edward Peters, a consultant to the Apostolic Signatura, says the most troubling aspect of the reform concerns the fast-track annulment process, decided by a bishop and aimed at speeding up what has been a lengthy and complicated procedure to declare a marriage null.
In a blog post today, Peters said the reasons listed in the Vatican's new norms could lead even happily-married couples to wonder if their marriages are invalid: If the woman had an abortion or if a spouse concealed children from a prior relationship, or a past incarceration.
"Many, many married couples have experienced one or more events in their lives," he wrote. "Unfortunately ... People with any of these factors in their lives are going to wonder, logically and sincerely, whether their marriage might be null."
Peters also questioned how bishops with no canon law training would be able to judge such cases.
Officials who released the reform yesterday acknowledged that training is an issue.
Francis released the reform to speed up and simplify the annulment process, part of his efforts to make the church more accessible to ordinary faithful and show its more compassionate side to those Catholics who have often been shunned.