Area priests expressed satisfaction and a sense of hope over a decision announced Wednesday by Bishop Richard Lennon that the longstanding practice of charging fees for marriage annulments and related matters is ending.
“I’m delighted,” Father Frank Kosem of Elyria’s St. Jude Church said in hailing the decision of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese as one that will remove what Kosem termed “obstacles to prevent people from fully participating in the church.”
Kosem termed the decision to eliminate annulment fees, which are in the range of $450, as a step to meeting with Pope Francis’ calls for a greater sense of pastoral care in parishes.
“We need to be welcoming and do all we can to bring people back into the practice of their faith in the church,” Kosem said.
Wednesday’s announcement from the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said Lennon had notified all priests and deacons in the diocese’ eight-county region “that the diocesan Tribunal will no longer charge fees for marriage annulment cases, marriage dispensations and marriage permissions.”
Such fees will now be paid by the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal, the body that handles such matters.
Individuals awaiting decisions on annulments also will have any remaining fees waived, according to the diocese.
Kosem said he felt uneasy over the practice of fees being assessed to parishioners as part of having marriages annulled by the Catholic Church.
“I never felt comfortable with the idea that there is money attached to the sacraments,” Kosem said.
Divorced Catholics who have not been granted annulments are not permitted to receive sacraments, including communion. He said such fees likely kept some at arm’s length from their church and from practicing their faith.
“It’s not a good thing,” Kosem said. “We need to make the sacramental life of the church available to all. At St. Jude’s we are a very welcoming community and we are delighted to bring back people who have been alienated for one reason or another.”
Father Bob Franco at North Ridgeville’s St. Peter Church expressed joy at the decision.
“It put a smile on my face,” Franco said. “I’m just glad it’s been taken away. It’s a great thing … one stumbling block removed … and an invitation to people to get some ambiguity in their life resolved.”
Franco acknowledged fees for annulments caused misunderstandings over the years as they were characterized by some as a means of “buying an annulment.”
Franco noted that he has granted marriage annulments in the past in which “neither party was paying a dime.”
When he received formal notice of the decision, Franco at first surmised it might be announcing an increase in annulment costs, or a call for clearer explanations of the policy to parishioners.
“Then I read it and realized they were dropping the fee and I thought ‘Wow, that’s great,’ ” Franco said.
Appreciating the stressful experience a divorce is, Franco said elimination of the annulment fee “is one less thing people don’t have to fret about.”
Fees charged and collected for annulments have historically gone to pay costs of operating the diocese office that handles and investigates cases involving annulments, said Father John Retar of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini in Lorain.
“Those fees were used to offset those costs, and now they will be picked up by the diocese totally,” Retar said.
Retar was among a group of Catholic clergy who met Wednesday with Lennon and discussed topics including reasons for doing away with the annulment fee.
“The feeling is that eliminating these charges helps make marriage much more God-given, and helps to clear up misunderstandings over the idea that an annulment is something you purchase,” Retar said.