Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD, welcomed Pope Francis’ Sept. 8 documents that will make the process for obtaining a church annulment easier and less expensive for Catholics throughout the world.

“These documents are promoting the pastoral part of ministering to those who are seeking an annulment. These people have already suffered enough pain,” Bishop Guillory said. “The changes are not promoting the nullity of marriage. I believe Pope Francis wants us as church to always demonstrate charity and mercy.”

The changes, which include a shorter process without the obligatory automatic appeal, go into effect Dec. 8, with the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis provided a set of “procedural regulations” outlining how his reforms are to take place, encouraging bishops in small dioceses to train personnel who can handle marriage cases and spelling out specific conditions when a bishop can issue a declaration of nullity after an abbreviated process.

The Diocese of Beaumont already has trained personnel who handle the requests through an office known as the Tribunal. However, the change in the automatic appeal should facilitate some requests here in Southeast Texas.

“We are a compassionate church,” Bishop Guillory said. “We need to reach out to those who feel alienated and on the fringe because they are divorced. We are all children of God.”

In the Catholic church, an “annulment” means a church court has ruled that though a couple was married in the church, the sacramental marriage didn’t exist because one or both of the parties could not make binding consent or commitment to undertake the obligations of the marriage vows.

Bishop Guillory encouraged Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Catholic Church to speak with their pastor about their situation.

“Often individuals are not aware of the type of obstacles that could have made that first marriage null or not a true sacramental marriage,” Bishop Guillory said.

Bishop Guillory added that the process of an appeal for a nullity is a complex blend of canon or Church law, theology and the human condition.

Bishop Guillory said the Diocese of Beaumont does charge a fee to assist with some of the work involved, but that too can be waived for anyone with a financial hardship. The current fee does not cover the entire cost of maintaining the Tribunal Office and could change in the future.