Pope Francis deserves credit for attempts to modernise the Catholic church
As the Eagles used to sing, "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".
That is pretty much the way Catholicism has traditionally treated marriage. The Catholic belief is that the union is sacred and indissoluble. The Vatican has for centuries instituted procedures and barriers to make an annulment or a divorce extremely difficult, if not impossible. And so this tough resistance to annulment has, for a long time, been reflected in the marriage laws of such Catholic countries as Ireland and the Philippines.
But in his latest move to bring the conservative church into the 21st century, Pope Francis has declared he is ready to make it easier for members of the church to secure an annulment of their marriage - a move hailed as the most radical reform of its kind in 250 years. This is a most welcome development. It follows this reformist pope's previous declaration that there is room for gays and lesbians within the church and that clergy should treat women who had abortions more leniently and with greater mercy.
An unhappy marriage has a terrible impact on the couple trapped in it. Loneliness, isolation and even domestic violence are some of the appalling results.
Securing an annulment used to take many years and carried hefty legal fees, but Francis has ruled that the procedure should be free and, in some cases, may be speeded up to within 45 days. He has also instructed bishops to be more welcoming towards divorcees and given them sweeping powers to judge quickly in the most clear-cut cases. In addition, Francis has cancelled a previously mandatory review of an annulment decision by a second tribunal.
Pope Francis is making a valiant effort to modernise the church and to eliminate some of its more rigid and unconscionable rules that have alienated many faithful and outsiders alike.
In doing so, he has shown the human side of the church that is accepting and merciful.