ROME — Pope Francis on Friday repeated his view that it should be easier for divorced Catholics to get an annulment — and at no charge.
During his annual address to the Roman Rota, the Vatican court that fields most marriage appeals, the pope expressed his desire to eliminate all financial charges for granting marriage annulments, a ruling from a Church court that allows a Catholic whose marriage has broken up to have a second Church wedding.
He also called for not allowing decisions in annulment cases to be contained within the “strains of legalism,” suggesting that a lack of knowledge of the faith may be grounds for granting one.
Last November, Francis insisted that annulments should not be exploited for profit, and he repeated that position Friday.
“The sacraments are free,” Francis said. “The sacraments give grace, and a matrimonial process touches the sacrament of matrimony. I want so much for every process to be free of charge!”
Pope Francis reminded the judges and advocates of the tribunal that the highest law of the Church is the salvation of souls, and that the Church’s legal system exists in the service of the faithful.
Francis also told the judges that, when considering the validity of a marriage, they should take in to consideration the values and the faith of the couple, suggesting that a “lack of knowledge of the faith” could be grounds for an annulment.
Talking about people living in irregular marriage situations, Pope Francis told the members of the Rota to give great care and sensitivity to the importance of a “formed conscience” in regard to the nature and purpose of marriage.
“This is the great difficulty of your mission, along with judges in every diocese,” he said, urging them “not to keep the salvation of persons enclosed within the straits of legalism.”
Francis had previously talked about the possibility of the annulment process being free during a seminar organized by the Rota last November. At the time he said: “We will have to see,” adding, “When the spiritual is attached to an economic interest, this is not from God.”
“The Mother Church has so much generosity to be able to do justice freely, as we have freely been forgiven by Jesus Christ,” he said.
Since the Catholic Church considers marriage to be a lifelong commitment, the annulment process is deliberately slow and cautious, with trials that take up to 10 years. The cost varies from diocese to diocese.
In many cases, it is already free. There are other payments not charged by a diocese, such as lawyers’ fees. But for some, the annulment is a process too expensive to even consider.
According to Catholic Answers, quoting a canon lawyer, in the US most annulment tribunals charge anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for adjudicating a standard nullity case. These fees are typically payable over time, and there are means for having fees reduced or eliminated in cases of financial hardship.
Unlike divorce, which is premised on the idea that a real marriage is being dissolved, an annulment is a declaration from a Church court that no marriage existed in the first place because it didn’t meet one or more of the tests under Church law for validity.
In some cases, those tests involve procedure. For instance, Church law requires that a couple’s vows be received by a Catholic priest, so if a Protestant minister officiated at the wedding, the union could be found null on the grounds of “lack of form.”
In other instances, the problem is substantive. One or both spouses, for example, could be found to have lacked the psychological capacity to truly understand their vows at the time they were married.