ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Since he was elected in March of 2013, Pope Francis has steadily pushed the Catholic Church towards more progressive tones. Now, just weeks before his first visit to the U.S., a significant change has occurred in granting annulments, making them far quicker and far cheaper.
Disenchanted Catholics have been calling for these changes for decades. It’s a big change, and it doesn't seem by coincidence. U.S. Catholics account for half the annulments in the world, but they’ve often been slow – taking years and thousands of dollars.
And without them, divorced Catholics can't take Holy Communion. Pope Francis declared that access to sacraments should be free, as he works to win back Catholics who've felt pushed away.
“He's changed the rules, he's changed the rules substantially,” University of St. Thomas canon law professor Dr. Charles Reid said.
In just over two years, Pope Francis had made his mark, softening the edges of the Catholic Church.
“And he's concerned with being merciful, this is part of his overall theme of mercy -- this is a jubilee of mercy,” Reid said.
Reid says Francis's decree on annulments, that they be free and much faster, is one of several huge olive branches to the disenfranchised -- “People have been calling for this for decades, we need greater flexibility in the system, Pope Francis is now providing that.”
But Reid sees this as capping a pivotal week for the Pope, who first made it easier for priests to absolve women who've had abortions. Then Sunday called on European Catholics to open their doors to the flood of Syrian refugees.
“And then today he's changed the rules on receiving marriage annulments, we're seeing Pope Francis consolidate himself, consolidate his rule, and now we're really seeing I think the authentic Pope Francis,” Reid said.
Not everyone is happy with Francis's modernization efforts. The Washington Post on Tuesday highlighted a conservative backlash inside the Vatican itself, a bit of a culture war.
But Reid believes he will win back Catholics -- “he means to put Jesus back in the center of the church, what would Jesus do?”