Diocese to stop charging fees for annulment process
The Diocese of Rochester will no longer assess diocesan fees -- which have run as high as $500 -- for petitioning for an annulment of marriage, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano announced in a June 24 letter to priests, deacons, religious and the diocesan faithful.
In certain cases, fees assessed by entities outside of the diocese still may be incurred, however.
Bishop Matano made the decision to eliminate the diocesan fees in consultation with the Diocesan Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Finance Council (Stewardship Council) and the Diocesan Tribunal staff. The policy will become effective July 1 and will apply to new cases as well as to petitioners still paying diocesan fees related to previous cases. Payments made before July 1 will not be refunded.
The move was made out of pastoral concern for those seeking annulments, Bishop Matano explained in his letter. Though the diocesan tribunal has long waived fees for those who were unable to pay, the attachment of any fees to the process may have deterred some people from seeking church guidance, he said.
"This is an extremely sensitive and painful moment for many entering in this process, and in no way should they be inhibited to doing whatever is possible to regularize their marriages and to reintegrate themselves in the full life of the church because of a fee," Bishop Matano said in a June 25 interview with the Catholic Courier.
Diocesan fees have ranged up to $500 for the process of adjudicating a full, formal annulment, according to Father Louis Sirianni, judicial vicar and director of the diocesan tribunal.
Complicated cases that require the involvement of entities outside the diocese -- such as other church courts involved in appeals of the process -- may still incur fees from the non-diocesan entities, Father Sirianni noted.
With the elimination of diocesan fees, the tribunal's operating costs will be fully funded by the Catholic Ministries Appeal, Father Sirianni said, noting that the volume of annulments has been declining and that the decision to eliminate fees was made on a pastoral, rather than financial basis.
"I think we’ve reached a level of competency in the tribunal where we are able to offer this service and to make it a charitable work," Bishop Matano said.
Bishop Matano’s previous Diocese of Burlington, Vt., is one of several dioceses around the country that do not charge fees for annulments. The Diocese of Cleveland announced in early June that it also would eliminate diocesan fees.
Father Sirianni explained that in the annulment process, a person believing that a failed marriage was invalid from the start asks the church to use its judicial process to investigate the validity of the marriage. Most cases of annulments are brought by divorced people who wish to have the validity of their previous marriages investigated in hope that they can be free to remarry.
"It's our hope that people will understand the bishop's pastoral concern for them and seek out remedying the difficult situation of their marriage through the church," Father Sirianni said.
Father Bob Kennedy, pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Boniface parishes and assisting priest at St. Mary Parish, all in Rochester, said the new policy already may have encouraged one of his parishioners to learn more about the annulment process. A woman he was speaking with at an event asked about annulments, and he suggested that she come talk to him, noting that as of July 1 there would no longer be diocesan fees for the process.
"Her face lit up like a Christmas tree," Father Kennedy said. "She was delighted to hear this. I would say she’s someone who doesn’t have a great deal of means, and when I said there would be no fee, she lit right up."
Father Kennedy said he believes eliminating fees may encourage people to take another look at pursuing annulments.
"There’s tremendous misinformation out there about annulments and particularly about the amount we charge," said Father Kennedy, who noted many people have said they believed an annulment would cost them thousands of dollars.
In his letter announcing the change, Bishop Matano also expressed his thanks to those who in the past had paid fees, which he noted have helped to maintain the diocesan tribunal over the years and enabled it to waive fees for those who could not afford to pay.
"Please be assured that you have helped many of your sisters and brothers to be healed, reconciled and to find peace," Bishop Matano said in the letter. "You have assisted our Diocese in reaching a new level of ministerial outreach."
Bishop Matano's letter also asked for prayers for married couples, for those experiencing trials and difficulties in their marriages and those whose marriages have not endured.
"In the short time that I have been here, I have found this to be a very charitable diocese that is very willing to reach out and help," Bishop Matano remarked in the Courier interview. "Sometimes those in most need of our help are people in our own family."
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Editor's note: People seeking further information on the annulment process should visit www.dor.org/index.cfm/tribunal.