All of us have friends and family members who have been married, divorced and married again outside the Church. Some are in these painful situations due to no fault of their own and others may be guilty of causing the destruction of their first marriage. Many of them want to find a way to a full, active participation in the life of the Church. That is what is what they all want, and what we all desire for them. However, both parties in the former marriage must be considered and protected from a faulty annulment process, lest the Church Herself through false compassion blesses marriages that can’t take place due to a previous valid marriage.
Some years ago, a good friend of mine who is not Catholic started talking about his own situation. He went on to explain how although he grew up in the Salvation Army and is a practicing Mason, he wanted his wife to have the ability to be married in the Catholic Church. I will call him John to protect his identity. John went to the local Catholic parish and met with the priest. He told the priest that his was was Catholic and he was not. John had been married previously and was willing to go through what is necessary to give his wife a Catholic marriage. Father went on to tell John that he needed to go through an annulment process, and that it would cost him $500.00. John thanked the priest, stood up and walked out. John and his non-practicing Catholic wife were married outside the Church.
There is no guarantee that if John went through the annulment process that he would have received the outcome that he desired, but he was willing to do it anyway. Due to the Church’s fees for an annulment, John and Mary (not here real name) were married outside the Church and the hope that John might have even considered becoming a Catholic was lost forever. To John, we became the Church that is only worried about money. And at time, I can’t blame him for his thinking.
I suggest that the Holy Father ban charging for annulments immediately. And, if bishops refuse, place an immediate canonical punishment on them. Most dioceses in the United States charge their parishes an annual assessment (a church tax), and in some nations like Germany, there is a national tax support the Church. We have become a Church obsessed by money. There are so many second collections in the US that you could choke an elephant with the envelopes.
If we were to offer an annulment process with no cost everybody wins. Right off, you put an end to the attitude that you have to “buy” an annulment. Of course this does not guarantee people will get their desired outcome, but they will see a Church of mercy that desires to help Her children without a cost. In the end, those people who have gone through the annulment process could be invited to give a donation and they will become better Catholics because our Church has sought to aid the sinner and not attack their pocketbook.