On November 5, Pope Francis suggested that the Roman Catholic Church’s annulment procedures need to be simpler, faster, and cheaper – possibly even free – for Catholics seeking to end their marriages. He made the suggestion during a speech to canon lawyers attending a course on marriage dissolution conducted by the church’s highest court: the Roman Rota at the Vatican.
The pontiff’s statement followed his revelation that a church official had been dismissed for selling annulments to the faithful for thousands of dollars. “I had to dismiss a person from a tribunal some time ago who said: ‘Give me $10,000 and I’ll take care of both the civil and ecclesiastical procedures’,” said Pope Francis. “We have to be careful that the procedure does not become some kind of business… When you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, it is not about God.”
Annulments are a major issue in the Catholic Church because those who divorce and subsequently remarry instead of having their previous marriage annulled are explicitly barred from taking Communion – a serious issue for the faithful. Since the Church doesn’t recognize divorce, without an annulment, their previous marriage is still valid – which means that divorced and remarried Catholics are committing adultery with their new spouses in the eyes of the Church.
The Catholic Church has faced complaints that obtaining an annulment can be an expensive, time-consuming, and laborious process. The pope acknowledged these issues, stating that the process of annulment was “so long and so weighty” that many people trying to obtain one became discouraged and walked away from the process without completing it.
This is not to say that the Church condones or encourages annulment. Pope Francis went on to talk about the commission he established in August 2014 to study reform of the canonical matrimonial process while protecting the “indissolubility of marriage”.