The following comes from a Sept. 7 posting on the website Whispers in the Loggia.

It’s not intentional – we think – but whatever the reason, Stateside holidays in the reign of Francis have invariably brought significant developments on the Vatican beat, whether they’re PopeTrips over Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, doc-drops on the 4th of July or Consistories every President’s Weekend…

…and lo and behold, just when this Labor Day was finally looking to be a last gasp of calm two weeks before his arrival in Washington, he did it again: at Roman Noon this Monday, the Holy See suddenly announced a major midday press conference tomorrow to release two surprise legal texts “on the reform of the canonical process for causes of the declaration of the nullity of marriage”: put simply, the ever-charged question of annulments.

Closing out the work of an ad hoc group of a dozen canonists Francis tasked with studying the issue in the quiet of August last year, the documents – both issued motu proprio (i.e. on the Pope’s own initiative) – will be called Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus”) for the Latin Code of Canon Law, and Mitis et misericors Iesus (“The Meek and Merciful Jesus”) for the 1991 text governing the Eastern Churches.

That the release of the texts was announced only on the eve of their publication – a striking contrast to the usual week’s notice for major Vatican documents – signals the Pope’s intent for the move to come as a complete surprise, and as an ostensible means of short-circuiting any attempt by critics of the changes to derail whatever he’s decided. In addition, that the commission completed its work in roughly a year is about the closest thing you’ll see to “lightning speed” for a process of this kind: to use a counter-example, the consultation and drafting of Benedict XVI’s tightened-up global norms on sex-abuse extended over at least three years before their release in 2010.

While no specifics of their contents are yet known, the announced titles and formats of the texts hint not only at the most significant revamp of annulment procedures at least since the 1983 publication of the revised Latin Code – and, unlike then, a loosening of the process this time – but likewise an overhaul of the relevant canons in each of the volumes which would enact a permanent, global, perhaps sweeping change to the laws overseeing the church’s discernment of whether a valid sacramental marriage indeed exists.