Top Vatican cardinal wants streamlined annulments

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican's top lawyer says he favors a radical change in how the Catholic Church handles marriage annulments to speed them up and reduce costs and red tape.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmiero is a key member of a commission of experts Pope Francis appointed in August to study ways to streamline the process. Catholics have long complained that it can take years to get an annulment, if they can get one at all. Some dioceses in the developing world don't even have a tribunal.

Catholic doctrine holds that a church marriage is indissoluble. An annulment is a judgment by a church tribunal that the marriage had some inherent defect from the start and can be declared null. Reasons can vary, including that the couple never intended for their marriage to last or that one of the spouses didn't want children.

Coccopalmiero said Thursday he favors letting individual bishops make nullity decisions in certain cases, changing what has been an exclusively judicial process to an administrative one. He also said removing an automatic appeal for all annulment cases, or reducing the number of judges from one to three on the tribunal, could help.

He spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a two-week meeting of bishops from around the world debating how church teaching on marriage, divorce, gays and sex can be more relevant to today's Catholics.

Breaking with tradition, the Vatican decided to withhold printed summaries of bishops' remarks to the synod in a bid to encourage freer debate. The change, however, has prompted protests by journalists shut out of the proceedings.

The Vatican's doctrine czar, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, told one of the two Catholic TV broadcasters allowed inside the synod hall that the speeches should be made public.

"All Christians have the right to be informed about the intervention of their bishops," he said.

Vatican spokesmen have staged daily briefings summarizing the debate, but without saying who said what.

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