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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has reformed the Roman Catholic Church's cumbersome procedures for marriage annulments, a decision keenly awaited by many couples around the world who have divorced and remarried outside the church.
The Vatican said Monday that the pope had written a document known as a Motu Proprio, Latin for "by his own initiative," which changes the way Catholics get annulments.
The details of the document, which is expected to streamline and simplify the procedure, will be released Tuesday at a Vatican news conference.
An annulment, formally known as a "decree of nullity," is a ruling that a marriage was not valid according to church law because certain prerequisites, such as free will, psychological maturity and openness to having children, were lacking.
The 1.2 billion-member church does not recognize divorce. Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the church in civil services are considered to be still married to their first spouses and living in a state of sin. This bars them from receiving sacraments such as communion.
The new procedures follow the pope's appointment a year ago of an 11-member commission of lawyers and theologians to propose reform of the process. The Vatican said at the time that he wanted to "simplify and streamline" the procedure while "safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage."
The situation of divorced and remarried Catholics who want to fully participate in the church is a topic of great debate, particularly in countries such as the U.S. and Germany, and it will be a main topic at a synod of bishops from around the world at the Vatican next month.
Making it easier for divorced couples to receive annulments would allow them to return to the sacraments.
Progressive bishops want the church to be more merciful toward Catholics whose first marriages have failed.
One Vatican expert on marriage annulments said that the new rules would not change the criteria for getting annulments but that they would make the procedures easier.