Two apostolic letters were released motu proprio earlier today: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus ("The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge"), which changes the Code of Canon Law for the Latin rite of the Church; and Mitis et misericors Iesus ("Clement and Merciful Jesus"), which alters canon law for the Eastern rites of the Church.
Canon law for both Western and Eastern rites has been changed in a few main ways. For one, a second judgment on all decisions, which used to be required, has been eliminated. Now, some cases can be concluded with only a single judgment. In other words, there can be moral certainty after one executive declaration of nullity.
Also, now, if a decision is appealed, the appeal can be handled locally by the bishop instead of centrally by the Vatican.
Further, the new laws allow for the local bishops to supervise quicker judgments in cases that are deemed to be clearer cases of invalidity.
The role of the bishops' conferences has likewise been clarified. Such conferences are now explicitly expected to respect individual bishops' judicial power in their own dioceses.
In addition, now if one of the separated parties isn't in attendance for the annulment procedures after two attempts at being summoned, then the assumption will be that he or she agrees the annulment process should carry on.
Finally, as the Pope has desired since at least last year, the process of receiving a declaration of nullity has been made less expensive for the parties involved. With today's adjustments, couples will be able to pursue a declaration of nullity free of charge.
The Pope is clarifying that the changes "do not favor the nullifying of marriages but the promptness of the processes." He believes the local bishop is the best man to correctly oversee these processes.
"It has not escaped me how an abbreviated judgment might put at risk the principle of indissolubility of marriage," the Holy Father notes. "Indeed, for this I wanted that in this process the judge would be composed of the bishop, that in the strength of his pastoral office is, with Peter, the best guarantee of Catholic unity in the Faith and discipline."
Last August, Pope Francis started the annulment commission that presented the changes today with the stated aim of "seeking to simplify and streamline the procedure, while safeguarding the principle of the indissoluble nature of marriage."