After my divorce so many years ago, I struggled mightily with my finances, as so many newly divorced people do. I worked two jobs just to cover all my expenses and even then, I was starving to death. I had no expendable cash and money was extremely tight for quite some time. I was suffering emotionally, spiritually and physically. The priest who was giving me spiritual direction encouraged me to apply for the annulment process so I could find some peace and move on from this terrible period in my life. I followed his prompts, but when I saw the fee associated with getting an annulment, I dropped it all like a hot potato. The fee was not exorbitant or unreasonable, but it was a fee—more money I had to shell out—and I just could not afford it, so I walked away.
Later on in my post-divorce years, I was able to reapply for an annulment and was able to make payments that were affordable on my income. I was even told that if I absolutely could not afford the cost, they would waive the fee altogether. I was so appreciative to know the tribunal was willing to work with me, and this is exactly what the Diocese of Cleveland has recently done in a rather bold move to eliminate all fees associated with the annulment process.
In an effort to help more Catholics return to the practice of their faith, the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, will eliminate all fees for marriage annulments effective immediately, Bishop Richard Lennon has announced. “This is an effort to promote the common good for the faithful of Cleveland,” Bishop Lennon said June 5. —Catholic News Agency
This surely will be a welcome relief for many Catholic men and women in that area who struggle with the legal expenses of a civil divorce, and making ends meet on a single income. It is a gesture of welcoming to Catholics who feel alienated from the Church because of their circumstances. It also promotes the idea that, as Pope Francis so aptly stated, the Church should be a field hospital welcoming those in need of healing and there certainly is an abundance of healing to be found in going through the annulment process.
It has long been a contention with some Catholics that the annulment process was just a money-maker for the Catholic Church; as if the hierarchy was not truly concerned with the healing of the petitioner but only with receiving a check. I have heard many angry divorced Catholics complain this was just one of several reasons they stayed away from the annulment process. It couldn’t break my heart more to know this falsehood was keeping them from finding the peace and healing they were seeking, especially those who had already remarried without a decree of nullity. Now, maybe, they will begin to listen and take note.
The cost of the annulment process varies from diocese to diocese and sometimes from case to case, ranging generally from $200 and $1,000, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But the common thread in this wide range is simply that people who work for the tribunal must be paid. Paper and office supplies must be purchased, lights and electricity must be kept on. That is where the money goes.
The elimination of annulment fees for cases in the Diocese of Cleveland begins immediately and for petitioners already in the process and awaiting a final decision, remaining balances are being waived. This is a huge step toward bringing more Catholics back to the Church and a trend I sincerely hope is followed by other dioceses and archdioceses. Bishop Richard Lennon said the decision was made to “encourage greater participation in the life of the church” by Catholics in “irregular marital situations, such as divorce and remarriage,” citing Pope Francis’ efforts to encourage ministry to divorced and separated Catholics “so that they do not feel excluded from the mercy of God.”
If you are a divorced Catholic in the Cleveland area who has stayed away from the annulment process because of the financial consideration, the tribunal has reached out to you and I encourage you to get the process rolling and finally be able to experience the healing that awaits you.
Please send me your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.