By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Taking a cue from Pope Francis, Bishop Martin Amos has eliminated all court fees related to the marriage annulment process for cases submitted to the Diocese of Davenport’s Tribunal. He made the decision — after consulting with the judicial vicar, bishop’s staff and Presbyteral Council — “to assist those individuals who find it necessary to determine their marital status in the Church.”
Bishop Amos said he hopes and prays “that my decision will encourage greater participation in the life of the Church by men and women who find themselves in difficult domestic situations as well as promote the common good of all the people of God.”
Elimination of fees is retroactive to Feb. 2; the Tribunal will send a notice of the change to all current and active cases.
“Pope Francis suggested in a recent statement that this would be a way to assist Catholics who are seeking annulments and several other dioceses have already gone ahead with this policy. Everyone I have spoken with seemed to think it was time for us to do the same,” said Father Paul Appel, the Davenport Diocese’s judicial vicar.
The Holy Father told the Roma Rota — which has primary responsibility for hearing requests for marriage annulments — that all annulment processes should be free of charge. “The sacraments are free. The sacraments give us grace. And a matrimonial process pertains to the sacrament of matrimony,” Pope Francis said during a Jan. 24 address, according to Catholic News Service. He told the Roman Rota that today’s culture portrays marriage as a form of emotional gratification and that people often marry without a true understanding of the sacrament. Many such marriages, as a result, may be invalid.
Fr. Appel said the Davenport Diocese receives about 70 new annulment cases each year and tries to finish about the same number. “We set a goal of six decisions per month, but this does not count simple cases such as “ligamen” and “Lack of Form.” Some cases are abated or dropped and sometimes we decide more than six.”
Ligamen refers to a case in which an existing marriage bond creates an impediment to the contracting of a second marriage. Lack of Form refers to a case in which a Catholic marries outside the Catholic Church without receiving a dispensation. That marriage, then, is considered invalid.
Tribunal fees ranged from $100 to $725, depending on the different types of annulment cases. “All of these were well below the actual cost involved in processing each case through the Tribunal Office,” Fr. Appel said.
Char Maaske, the Davenport Diocese’s chief financial officer, said Tribunal fees paid by individuals totaled $30,775 last year. Most of the Tribunal costs are covered by the Annual Diocesan Appeal, and future expenses will be handled in the same way. The cost to run the office is about $150,000 per year, she said. Fr. Appel said the Tribunal will no longer be sending out billing statements, even for older cases.
Whether the elimination of Tribunal court fees will impact the number of cases submitted to the office remains to be seen. “I don’t think our caseload will increase dramatically. In the past, many parishes assisted parishioners in need with the initial deposit,” Fr. Appel said.