Marriage and Annulments in the Papacy of Francis: Themes of Mercy and Accompaniment

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theological Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William Johnston


The focus of my thesis is on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage in light of PopeFrancis' changes to canon law in his motu proprios, Amoris Laetitia, and the 2014 and2015 Synod on the Family. I proceed through a close reading of the primary texts relatedto marriage, namely, the midterm and final reports on the Synod of the Family and PopeFrancis' Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, Mitis et Misericors Iesus, and Amoris Laetitia. Inaddition to these primary texts, my study draws on relevant, scholarly works on Francisand his initiatives. Each of the primary texts provide unique developments to the teachingand practice of the Catholic Church and ought to be understood in light of thepredominant themes of Francis' papacy, particularly mercy and accompaniment. I willpresent these ecclesial developments as consistent with and advancing the spirit of thetraditions of the Catholic Church. I will also argue that these primary sources serve as away to move past polarization and find common ground in terms of the differentunderstandings of marriage today. The paper begins with an investigation of the historyof the indissolubility of marriage in order to understand how this concept has evolved andwhere there may be room for further development. I then briefly discuss the Synod on theFamily and its documents, and this provides the context for understanding the foundationon which Amoris Laetitia was developed. Next, the changes Pope Francis made to the annulment process through the motu proprios are analyzed to determine how theycontribute to the way the Church cares for people in "irregular" situations. In doing so, Ihope to shed more light on the subject of canon law as inherently related to theology andpastoral care. My thesis also seeks to understand why and how the Catholic Church canreconcile the statement that "divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces isvery troubling" with the streamlined changes made by Francis in the annulment process.The thesis concludes with an analysis of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation AmorisLaetitia, which provides the final explanation of marital indissolubility.The goal of this thesis is to contribute my own assessment of the doctrine of theindissoluble bond of marriage as a necessary teaching that deserves further explorationand to suggest that the changes made by Pope Francis are done in the spirit of developingthe Church's efforts in ministering to her people. Through critically evaluating thetraditional notion of marriage on which the Catholic Church relies, we arrive at a placewhere dialogue can take place. This is the climate Pope Francis is seeking to foster forthe Church, and this thesis aims to defend the legitimacy of his perspective.


Theology, Religion, Religious History, Canon Law, Marriage, Pope Francis, Annulments, Divorce, Canon Law, Mercy, Catholic Church

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