Pope Francis makes marriage annulment easier for the benefit of estranged couples

Pope Francis smiles to an engaged couple during a special audience to celebrate Saint Valentine's Day in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican.Reuters

In a momentous move, Pope Francis has decided to "simplify and streamline" the procedure for getting marriage annulments—a decision expected to be warmly received by estranged Catholic couples from around the world.

According to News Max, Pope Francis made the decision as "motu proprio," a Latin term which means "by his own initiative." The full details of the document will be released later during a Vatican news conference.

An annulment is a "decree of nullity" that deems a marriage is not valid according to Church law because it lacks certain prerequisites, such as free will, psychological maturity, and willingness to have children.

After hearing several couples and priests complain about the outdated and complicated procedure of getting an annulment, which sometimes discourages even those with legitimate grounds from even trying to get one, Pope Francis decided to come up with a simpler and more understandable procedure while still "safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage."

This means that getting an annulment will now be easier. However, the criteria for getting one remain unchanged.

The Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge divorce. Catholics who do divorce and then re-marry outside the Church in civil services are condemned for living in a state of sin. As punishment, they are prohibited from taking part in sacraments such as Communion.

The papal move is not expected to ease the raging controversy regarding divorced and remarried Catholics, particularly those living in the United States and Germany, wanting to participate in Church services and sacraments. The issue is expected to remain a highly contested one in the days ahead leading up to Pope Francis' visit to the US on Sept. 22.

Many bishops are now pushing for leniency towards couples who have suffered from failed marriages, and are eager to welcome them back to the Church. But other Church leaders remain firmly rooted to the traditional views of the Church.