The matrimonial nullity trial reforms of Pope Francis are the reforms of Catholic canon law governing such trials, made public 8 September 2015. The reforms were effected by two separate apostolic letters[1] from Pope Francis, the motu proprio Mitis iudex dominus Iesus amending the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and the motu proprio Mitis et misericors Iesus amending the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.[2] This was in response to the bishops who, during the Synod on the Family of 5-9 October 2014, called for simplification of the procedure whereby a legally invalid marriage is declared null.[3]

At the press conference announcing the reforms, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, emphasized that the church does not decree the "annulment" of a legally valid marriage, but rather declares the "nullity" of a legally invalid marriage.[4]

Scope of the reforms

There are three main reforms:[5]

  1. A cleric's "second review" before nullity can be declared was eliminated.[5]
  2. Bishops now have the authority to declare nullity themselves, and in a more efficient manner.[5]
  3. The process should be gratis, as long as the tribunal workers can still be paid a just wage.[6]

The reforms took legal effect on 8 December 2015.[7]

The expedited process may take as few as 120 days.[6]

History of the reforms

The reforms were proposed by a group of experts in matrimonial jurisprudence.[2] According to experts at the Vatican, they are the most expansive revision in matrimonial nullity jurisprudence in centuries.[1] The reforms are a departure from the 18th-century matrimonial nullity reforms of the canonist Pope Benedict XIV.[1]


Austen Ivereigh described the reforms as "revolutionary" and says that they are the broadest reforms in 300 years.[1]

Kurt Martens, a canon law professor, worries that the reduction in procedure will not guarantee a fair trial.[1] He likened the reforms to the Catholic Church providing a means of no-fault divorce.[1] In an article published by conservative religious journal First Things, Martens stated that many Italian jurists fear that there might be a spike in conflicts between the canonical, Italian, and European Union judicial systems, since the reforms abolish a number of "basic due process norms" which are neither respected nor acknowledged. In his view, this renders the canonical judicial system "incompatible" with modern judicial procedure.[8]

Pope Francis reflected after the 2014 Synod on the Family that: "A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming, and, if possible, at no expense."[7] Between 1970 and 1983 the United States bishops had experimented with the possibility of one rather than two hearings and 90% of the cases were decided without the second tribunal. But the Code of Canon Law of 1983 eliminated this possibility, now restored through Pope Francis' revisions.[9] Others saw that "Putting the poor at the centre is what distinguishes the reform of Pope Francis."[10] In the words of the motu proprio: "Care is to be taken that everyone, parties or witnesses, can participate in the process at a minimum of cost."[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Pope Francis announces biggest changes to annulment process in centuries". Washington Post. 8 September 2015. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Pope Francis reforms Church law in marital nullity trials". 8 September 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  3. ^ "Articles from Catholic University of America Workshop, March 2016". Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  4. ^ "Press conference details marriage law reforms". 8 September 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Gallagher, Delia; Burke, Daniel (8 September 2015). "Pope Francis makes annulment of marriages cheaper and easier". CNN. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions Re: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus". Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 things to know and share Archived 9 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Catholic Answers, accessed 8 September 2015
  8. ^ New Norms for Marriage Nullity, Kurt Martens, 4 December 2015; accessed 6 December 2015
  9. ^ Green, Emma (8 September 2015). "Thanks to Pope Francis, It's Now Easier to Get Your Marriage Officially Annulled in the Church". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Pope Francis reforms annulment process". The Catholic Weekly. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus by which the canons of the Code of Canon Law pertaining to cases regarding the nullity of marriage are reformed (15 August 2015) | Francis". Article 7,2. Retrieved 15 July 2017.