Bishop David Zubik announced Wednesday the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh will no longer charge to annul marriages.
The diocese is answering the call of Pope Francis, who previously proposed the elimination of all fees related to sacraments, including marriage, and in this case, the annulment of that union. According to the Rev. Thomas Kunz, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the annulment fees have prevented some Catholics from experiencing the sacraments within the church.
“What we’re trying to do is help eliminate any barrier that a person might have in order to come back to the church and seek reconciliation with the church,” Kunz said. “So, we’re really trying to help people come back to church, basically.”
According to the church, divorced Catholics who want to remarry require an official finding that the first marriage was not spiritually binding. Catholics who remarry without an annulment aren’t allowed to receive sacraments or hold leadership positions within the church.
The diocese said it has always waived the annulment fee for those who could not afford it, but the existence of the fee prevented many Catholics from applying.
“We’re trying to … help people who are in a marriage that’s already broken apart and there’s no chance of reconciliation,” Kunz said. “We’re trying to help them move on with their life.”
According to the diocese, annulments can cost several hundred dollars and bring in as much as $120,000 annually. The fees partially covered the cost to maintain an office of canon lawyers and process annulment cases.
Now, two-thirds of that money will come from the fundraising initiative “Our Campaign for the Church Alive!” over the next four years. The annual Parish Share Program will provide the remainder of the operating funds and will cover the full cost by 2020.
Kunz called the move a step towards furthering the new evangelization movement championed by Pope Francis.
“There’s a lot of hard feelings out there sometimes and especially when a marriage ends, people are really hurt and they’re broken and then they spiritually have issues in their own lives,” he said. “Hopefully, this is a clearing of any spiritual obstacle as well.”