More Filipino Catholics are expected to seek marriage nullity after the Vatican announced that it has made the annulment process simpler.
"There will be more who will try to really seek a marriage nullity especially if they are already separated," said Archbishop Oscar Cruz, head of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Philippine Catholic bishops' conference.
The prelate said the Philippine tribunal receives an average of 60 marriage annulment cases every year. This year, some 40 cases have already been lodged since January, said Archbishop Cruz.
The Vatican has announced that it has eliminated the requirement that any marriage annulment granted by a church court must be automatically reviewed by another set of judges.
The new rules also allow a bishop to hear a case and grant an annulment in less than two months.
"I agree with the Holy Father that the process for marriage nullity declaration can be shortened," Cruz said, adding that the current practice is "quite complicated."
He explained that an annulment case begins in the diocese where judges decide whether or not a marriage is null and void. The decision is then sent to the Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal for review.
"If the tribunal agrees with the first instance, it's done. The marriage is effectively declared null and void," said Cruz.
The case goes to Rome if a Court of Appeals disagrees with the decision of the first instance or the diocese. "That takes a lot of time," said Archbishop Cruz.
A case usually takes one and a half years to be resolved, except for some cases, like if the couple realizes that they are first cousins.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the conference, clarified that while the pope has opted to simplify the process for the declaration of marriages to be null and void, "the doctrine about the sacredness of marriage and family life is unchanged".
"[The pope]'s new apostolic letter reaches out to those Catholics who suffer quietly from the bond and obligations of what they thought was a marriage, when the truth is there was no marriage to speak of from the very start because the requirements for the valid reception of matrimony were not present," said Archbishop Villegas in a statement.
He said the pope wants to reach out tenderly to those who suffer from invalid marriages.
"The matrimonial tribunals must be brought closer to the people," said Archbishop Villegas, adding that each diocese has been mandated to have such marriage courts.
"The services of the Church must be more accessible to the people. Tthe process to receive those blessings of new peace for those who have suffered long must be simplified," he said.