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Pope Francis says he wants all annulments to be free

Pope Francis officiated at the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Religion News Service photo by Cathleen Falsani
"2012 Worldwide Catholic Annulment Cases." Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen

“2012 Worldwide Catholic Annulment Cases.” Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen

(RNS) Pope Francis on Friday (Jan. 23) warned the Vatican’s top marriage judges that they should not “lock the salvation of persons within the straits of legalism” and indicated he wants the church to no longer charge for the sometimes onerous and expensive annulment process.

“This is a point I want to emphasize: the sacraments are free,” Francis told jurists of the Roman Rota, the church’s final court of appeals for annulments.

“The sacraments give us grace,” he said. “And a marriage proceeding” — like an annulment — “touches on the sacrament of marriage.”

“How I wish all marriage proceedings were free of charge!” he added.

Annulments have been a source of controversy since at least the time of King Henry VIII, who split with the Roman Catholic Church over the pope’s refusal to grant him an annulment.

In modern times, the process of nullifying a church marriage has been derided by some as too easy, criticized by others as too complicated, or viewed as too expensive and accessible only those with influence or means.

In the past year, Francis has added new fuel to the debate by raising the related question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who do not have an annulment and are barred from receiving the Eucharist.

That’s a serious pastoral problem in U.S. parishes, for example, and the pope’s push for a solution has sparked an intense pushback by some conservative churchmen and their allies.

Francis convened a major meeting of top bishops last fall to discuss the topic, among other things, and a follow-up convocation is set for next October following the pope’s trip to the U.S.

In the meantime, Francis has also sought to reform and streamline the annulment process and he has pushed to make it less expensive, and more widely available. While all U.S. dioceses have a church court, or tribunal, to deal with marriage cases, the majority of Catholics living in poorer parts of the world often have no such recourse even if they could afford it.

Some U.S. dioceses, which account for nearly half of all annulment cases in the Catholic Church, have announced that they will no longer charge fees, usually about $400, for the process. The dioceses in Cleveland and South Bend, Ind., took that step last year.

Beyond administrative fixes, however, Francis has also pushed pastors and canon lawyers to be merciful with Catholics and to do everything they can so that the rules do not get in the way of grace and the sacraments.

That was the thrust of the pontiff’s address to the church jurists on Friday at the start of the Rota’s 2015 term, and it was also the theme of his homily at morning Mass Friday in the chapel at his Vatican residence.

“Confessions often seem like a procedure, a formality,” Francis said. “Everything is mechanical! No! Where’s the meeting in this? The meeting with the Lord who pardons you, hugs you and rejoices.”

Confession, he said in one of his characteristically folksy analogies, “is not like going to the dry cleaners to get a stain removed. No! It’s about going to meet with our Father who reconciles, who forgives us and who rejoices.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Francis has also pushed pastors and canon lawyers to be merciful with Catholics and to do everything they can so that the rules do not get in the way of grace and the sacraments.

    In other words, to apply no standards whatsoever and annul an ancient teaching of the Church.

    Francis may prove the best recruiter Orthodoxy ever had.

  • “In other words, to apply no standards whatsoever and annul an ancient teaching of the Church.”

    They used to. Pay $400 and get it annulled. Same standards they used in the Middle Ages for soothing the worried brows of armed miscreants in service of feudal leaders.

    Now they want to give it away for free. For shame.

  • That’s a filing fee you cretin. Annulments require hearings before diocesan tribunals. Even in this crooked age, about a third of all applicants are turned down.

  • Why doesn’t the Pope start a revision of Canon Law- the first since 1983- to get rid of the Pharisaical legalisms which appear to bother him? That way, the “bad” doctrines can be changed or done away with. Right now he’s apparently satisfied with ‘look the other way’ on the, to him, troubling doctrinal issues…

  • Art Deco is always name calling, making character assassination attempts, and ad hominems. Its what makes him so classy. 🙂

  • When one reads Deuteronomy 24:1–4 it is a sickening indictment and a clear indication this codex was written by indecent Men for other indecent Men. Shame the Church finds it necessary to interfere in peoples lives at all and to punish them for an action which has clearly found to be necessary in large part because of indecent Mens actions.

    Not only do it for free free the women from this oppressive construct altogether.

    Preserving harm to others is Gods work? Love? Compassion? No this is Mans work.

  • Bill Miller. It’s a long-term process. Francis is not gonna change anything but the esthetic. However, that change is important too. Ratzinger managed rational/theological issues, Francis is listening and generating debate, the next pope we will need is probably a canonical law expert. Each pope with its porpouse and capacity.

  • Thank you so Much Su Santidad!…

    Everyone on here needs to stop pointing the firger, cause im sure you all are not nearly as holy as a you expect anyone alse to be…hypocrits
    If only everyone was nice to everyone, what a different world this would be

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