Pope Francis revealed Wednesday that he had sacked a church court official who had been caught offering to facilitate marriage annulments for cash.
The shock revelation came in candid remarks to students attending a course at the Roman Rota tribunal, the equivalent of the Supreme Court for canon law, the body of Church rules.
Telling his audience that he wanted decisions on annulments to be easier, quicker and cheaper to obtain for ordinary people, the pontiff made it clear he regards the current system as deeply flawed.
“We have to be very careful that the procedure does not become a kind of business – and I am not talking about something we know nothing about,” the 78-year-old pope said.
“There have been public scandals. Some time ago, I had to dismiss from a tribunal someone who was saying ‘for 10,000 dollars I will do both the civil and the ecclesiastical procedure’.”
Francis did not provide any further details of the episode but a Vatican spokesman said he understood the pontiff to have been referring to an episode which occurred prior to him becoming pope last year.
The conditions under which a marriage can be annulled — effectively declared to have never existed — have been a vexed issue for the Church for centuries.
Most notably, the question triggered the 16th Century clash with King Henry VIII that led to the English reformation and the creation of the Church of England.