Bishop William Murphy announced that the Diocese of Rockville Centre will eliminate all fees (except for a $100 registration fee) for those individuals seeking a Declaration of Marital Nullity (often mistakenly referred to as an “annulment.”)
In a letter to priests on June 29, 2015 – the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Bishop Murphy said, “The preparation for the Synod for the Family in the fall has led me to consider ways here in the Diocese of Rockville Centre to help people – particularly those Catholics married outside the Church – to be reconciled to the Church and to live fully in the Communion of the Church.”
Bishop Murphy explained that the decision was made after consulting with the Vicars and with Msgr. James Pereda, Judicial Vicar. “By taking this step and planning appropriately for the Tribunal budget for the coming year and beyond, I hope and pray that those who have been unable or unwilling to seek a Declaration of Nullity will now be more willing to do so.”
At present, the fee of $1,100 only partially covers the cost of maintaining a professional office of canon lawyers and support staff, and other expenses involved in processing the cases. The rest of the cost is subsidized by the generosity of the people of the diocese. “While the fee has always been waived for those who could not afford it, the very existence of a fee might have discouraged others from applying,” said Bishop Murphy.
Bishop Murphy’s decision comes as Pope Francis has been calling attention to a particular concern for families and pastoral care for them. The Holy Father has said, “Pastors should search for ways to minister to divorced and separated Catholics so that they do not feel excluded from the mercy of God.”
A Declaration of Marital Nullity is a judgment by the Church that a presumed valid marriage, which ended in divorce, was lacking from the very beginning an essential element or ingredient required for valid marital consent. The Church does not “annul” or “nullify” marriages. After looking into the circumstances of a marriage, the Church only declares whether or not the marriage in question, which may have been entered into sincerely and with good will, may not have been valid because of defective consent. Such a declaration does not deny that a marriage took place or that genuine love may have existed. It simply acknowledges that, for a serious reason either unknown or overlooked at the time, the consent was flawed and not validly exchanged. This process has no effects in the civil law of the country. Therefore, such matters as the legitimacy of children, property rights, alimony or child support, etc., are in no way affected by a Church declaration of nullity.
Why is a Declaration of Marital Nullity necessary?
Because the teachings of the Catholic Church hold that marriage is intended by God to be a sacred and permanent bond, any divorced person seeking to be married in the Catholic Church must first petition the Church for a Declaration of Freedom to Marry based on an investigation of the previous union. This investigation, in each case, seeks to determine whether or not valid marital consent was exchanged and whether or not, at the time of the marriage, both spouses were capable of entering into the covenant of faithful and permanent love that the Church defines marriage to be. A Declaration of Marital Nullity may also be sought for personal solace, even if a person has no plans to enter into a new union.