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Pope announces sweeping changes to Catholic annulments -

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DAVID MARK: Pope Francis has continued his reforming ways, announcing it will now be easier for couples to have their marriage annulled.

It comes a week after the Pope ordered that abortion be forgiven by priests.

The Holy See has decided on a new process to allow Catholics to separate and remarry while still remaining within the church.

But, the Pope's decision is certain to upset many conservative Cardinals, who argued against any changes to church marriage laws.

Bridget Brennan reports.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: The Pope's sweeping changes to Catholic annulments have been welcomed by the Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge.

MARK COLERIDGE: I think what it demonstrates above all is the Popes essentially pastoral concern for people who are going through, inevitably, a very rough time, and the church doesn't want to make it any rougher.

So he has a genuinely pastoral concern which is typical of Pope Francis and I think he's saying to Bishop's like myself, don't focus on this issue anymore; I've heard the voices. Look at some of the other issues that may be more important at this time.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: Technically there's no such thing as a Catholic divorce.

But Catholic couples who wish to part ways can apply to have their marriage nullified on the grounds that it was never valid in the first place.

However, getting an annulment approved by a church tribunal is a complex, lengthy and expensive process.

Vatican analyst Robert Mickens:

ROBERT MICKENS: Too many people have walked away from the church in the face of long and costly, or what they perceive to be long and costly processes of annulling their marriage so that they can marry someone else in a church ceremony.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: Annulments will now require approval from only one church tribunal instead of two, and access to hearings will be free.

The changes to Canon law were announced at the Vatican overnight.

Monsignor Dimitrios Salachas spoke at the press conference.

DIMITRIOS SALACHAS (translated): Ninety per cent of weddings are mixed - Catholic/Orthodox. People will not wait years and years for the two processes; they will just leave. We have lost the majority of Catholics due to the slowness of these processes.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: At Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican, there was a positive response from Catholics.

WOMAN: Yes I do think it's a good idea to help people who have had difficult times in their lives with difficult marriages.

WOMAN 2: As it stands at the moment, to get an annulment of your marriage, it can take many many years and it's a lot of time, with different priests and you go through the whole Canon law. So if they can simplify it to people that are in unfortunate situation, where their marriage hasn't worked and they have real reasons for the annulment. It's not going to be as simple as saying I want a divorce.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: Pope Francis announced the changes after he established a commission to look at marriage reform several months ago.

Last year, US cardinal Raymond Burke led a push against streamlining the annulment process.

RAYMOND BURKE: God gives the grace to those who are called to the married state, so if I am married to someone, it's not possible for me to be married to someone else, because that marriage isn't desirable; it's for life.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: The Archbishop of Bishop Mark Coleridge says there'll inevitably be controversy surrounding what many see as much-needed reform in the Catholic Church.

MARK COLERIDGE: This issue of the simplification of the annulment process has been less controversial. Inevitably in a church as big as the Catholic Church, you're going to get contrary voices, and on this there will be some, perhaps canonists who think that it's dangerously lax and it is open to abuse. And, the Pope acknowledges all of that in the document, he says that this new approach will need to be handled carefully.

BRIDGET BRENNAN: Next month Bishops from around the world will gather in Rome for what's known as a Synod - there they're likely to discuss another contentious issue - the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

DAVID MARK: Bridget Brennan.