Pope Francis sets up commission to make divorce easier for Catholics

Pope has set up commission to examine simplifying lengthy annulment process, avoiding row brewing between liberals and conservatives

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The Independent Online

Pope Francis has ordered a group of theologians and lawyers to open up methods for Catholics to obtain divorces more easily.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Faith may hope the 11-member commission, announced on Saturday, will diffuse a row brewing between liberals and conservatives of his Church.

The commission will seek to “simplify the (annulment) procedure, making it more streamlined, while safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage,” according to a Vatican statement.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is close to Pope Francis, hinted in February that remarried individuals may be allowed to receive communion.

If a Catholic individual divorces and then remarries, they can be refused communion because civil divorce is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church.

A relaxation of this rule has been publicly opposed by five conservative Church figures, including German Cardinal Gerhard Muller.

Although Pope Francis has not openly backed either side of the debate, his recent actions can be read as a sign of softening Papal attitudes.

He recently married 20 cohabiting couples in the first ceremony of its kind in 14 years. The BBC’s Rome correspondent David Willey commented that ‘very slowly, the church under the guidance of Pope Francis is facing the fact that many Catholic couples cohabit before marriage, use contraception freely and divorce and remarry without seeking an annulment’.

Observers believe a move to speed up the annulment process, instead of opting for a civil divorce, may diffuse the row.

At the moment Catholic annulments can only be obtained after going through lengthy and often costly procedures, demonstrating the marriage was invalid from the first.