Following policy change, annulment workshop explains the process

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Wed, Oct 21st 2015 01:00 pm
Staff Reporter

Following Pope Francis' lead to simplify the Catholic annulment process, Bishop Richard J. Malone has announced that he has waived the fee for annulments in the Diocese of Buffalo. Now Catholics can learn more about the confusing process with a workshop Thursday night.

The "Marriage and Annulment in the Catholic Church" seminar will take place on Thursday, October 22 at 7pm at St. Martha Parish, 10 French Road, Depew. Father Robert Zilliox of the Tribunal Office of the Diocese of Buffalo will speak about the essence of Canon Law and the sacrament of Marriage as he explains the new procedures for annulments recently announced by Pope Francis. Many Catholics across the United States have welcomed Pope Francis' annulment reforms, the most far-reaching in almost three centuries.

A common misconception about annulments is that they are prohibitively costly, making some people not even consider entering into the process. In the past the cost, which may have reached $350, could have been waived in certain circumstances.

The Diocese of Buffalo now has eliminated all fees that are incurred in the normal processing of an annulment case. However, if one of the spouses chooses to appeal the decision through the Interdiocesan Tribunal - Province of New York, there may be fees due to that Tribunal.

The decision to remove the fee came after months of discernment, to welcome divorced Catholics back into the Church.

"The hope is that this decision will open the door for many more people to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church," Bishop Malone said. "Often, people are discouraged from seeking an annulment because of the perceived financial burden attached to an annulment process. Requesting a fee for the annulment process has been an enormous psychological hindrance."

Bishop Malone is encouraging pastors and other Church leaders to continue to make every effort to assure divorced parishioners that the Church loves and welcomes them.

The diocesan Tribunal office has been abuzz with phone calls from people wanting information on the new annulment guidelines following the Sept. 8 announcement that Pope Francis wanted annulments to be streamlined, simpler and quicker. This message comes just before the World Meeting of Families and second Synod on Families. The new guidelines go into effect on Dec. 8, when the pope's Year of Mercy begins.

Msgr. Salvatore Manganello, judicial vicar for the diocesan tribunal, which is responsible for processing annulment cases, makes it clear that there has been no change to the Church teaching on marriage.

"Some of the processes for annulments are changing," Msgr. Manganello said. "The Church teaching on marriage is not changing. It still remains the same. But it is the process the pope is changing to make it a little bit easier to work with, and speed up the process somewhat to make it a little bit faster than it has been."

He outlined five major changes in the annulment process: The Rules for Tribunal Competence, where the petitioner can go to his or her diocese and that diocese can now accept the case without seeking permission from another diocese. In the past, if the marriage took place in another diocese, or the respondent lived in another diocese, permission to proceed would be needed from those dioceses.   

"Depending on where people lived and where the marriage took place, there were times when we would have to contact another diocese in order to get permission to do the annulment. That has been eliminated," Msgr. Manganello said. "That will cut out another period of time, at least a month or more."

A three-judge panel that reviews cases can now be one priest and two lay people, rather than two priests and one lay person.  

The mandatory appeal has been eliminated. However, respondents can still ask for an appeal.

The most noticeable change will be the approach to recovering tribunal expenses. "The pope wants it to be free. The Diocese of Buffalo just eliminated the fees," said Msgr. Manganello. "One of the reasons the bishop of our diocese wanted to eliminate the fees was because one of the popular misconceptions was that it costs thousands of dollars to get an annulment. That was never the case. People were afraid that if they couldn't afford the fee of the tribunal, they couldn't even take the time to see if they could get an annulment. Those fees were always waived as well if people couldn't afford it."

The streamlining should cut about six months from the process. An annulment will take about a year now.

"You're cutting off the appeal court, which could be two to six months of work," Msgr. Manganello said. "The fact that we don't have to contact another diocese will reduce it probably by another month. I would say it would take up to a year after this goes into effect, only because of the number of cases that we have to do, and the fact that there's not a whole lot of us to do it. You're dealing with a bunch of different cases all at the same time. You try to handle things coming form different directions, from different cases."

It's hard to estimate the number of cases the six-person staff of the Tribunal works on at any time. Some cases are beginning, some are concluding, others go to Rome that are not part of annulment process, and other cases that have nothing to do with marriage. Msgr. Manganello guesses he has 15 to 20 cases he is personally working on at any given time. "I think that would be safe to say I have to deal with."

A Church annulment, properly known as a "declaration of nullity," is a declaration by a Church court that a marriage entered in good faith was lacking an essential element that the Church requires for the sacramental or spiritual bond of marriage. Often when a marriage ends in divorce, it turns out that there was an issue from the very beginning that prevented the couple from living out the obligations of marriage as set forth in the teachings of the Church.

Marriage must be freely entered into, with no deception, coercion or fear driving either party or both spouses must have the intention to enter a permanent, faithful union that is open to the possibility of children. In the Catholic Church, marriage is understood to be a community of life for a man and a woman, for their mutual interpersonal growth, and for the procreation and education of children. Each spouse must have the basic physical, emotional, and psychological ability to understand the intentions and meaning of marriage and to intend to fulfill them.

Anyone who has been previously married and divorced and now wishes to marry in the Catholic Church, or to have a current civil marriage recognized by the Church, must petition for a declaration of nullity. This includes non-Catholics seeking to marry a Catholic and those seeking to become part of the Catholic Church.

The Family Life Department of the Diocese of Buffalo offers a program called LINK aimed at assisting people to adjust to the fact of their divorce and at helping people reconstruct their lives in relationship to others. Information about such programs may be obtained from the Tribunal or Family Life Department. 

For more information about the annulment process contact the Tribunal at 716-847-8769 or tribunal@buffalodiocese.org.

 

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