Dear Pope Francis,
... "Currently in the U.S., to receive an annulment the petitioner must complete a 13-page form, pay $200 - $1,000 depending on the diocese, secure witnesses and have them submit forms, be interviewed by church personnel, have their former spouse be contacted for response, and all this paperwork submitted to a tribunal of mostly clergy judges (men who have vowed never to marry yet who consider their vocation as a “marriage” with their parish…and subsequently change parishes several times in their career without needing to seek an annulment from previous parishes) who will provide the initial ruling regarding the nullity of the marriage. That ruling is required to undergo review by a second tribunal of mostly clergy (more men who have vowed never to marry yet who have changed parishes to which they are “married” several times).
Your edict removes the requirement for the second review and suggests lowering the fee to cover only true administrative costs. However, it also states that judgment must now come from a single tribunal judge and this person must be a cleric, unless I misunderstand this statement: “The constitution of a single judge in the first instance,who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee ...”
That last change has been overlooked by most people perhaps because they assume all tribunal judges are already priests. Yet, currently females can serve as tribunal judges.Why do you say you want more important roles for women but your actions here do the exact opposite?
I thought you despised clericalism and felt too many powers lie exclusively in the clergy’s hands already. Why add to the list? Why insist that avowed unmarried people are the only qualified people to rule on marriages? Here’s just one example giving cause to my concerns about placing all annulment powers in clergy hands. Just two weeks ago, I sat through a homily by a clueless priest laughing, yes laughing, as he said he counseled people suffering in abusive marriages that they should consider the abuse a blessing because God was teaching them patience and charity. How many women continue to suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse because clueless priests like the one I just described make them feel too guilty to leave abusive marriages? Issuing that misplaced guilt is beyond shameful; it is sinful. Chastise the abuser not the abused seeking refuge, if you must chastise someone. You seem to take a merciful stance with Syrian refugees who are being abused…
I went through the annulment process almost two decades ago, receiving my annulment in what I’m told was record time (about 7 months). Frankly, I’m underwhelmed by your changes. I assume since I resemble your target market on this, you’d appreciate my feedback. Therefore, here are some things that I would have found truly merciful simplifications.
- Stop using communion as a treat for people you consider well-behaved…for any reason.
- Require divorced and remarried people to undergo the same process that priests require when they divorce one parish and remarry another…. Oh, that’s nothing? O.K. Sounds simple, merciful and equitable, to me.
- If you retain an annulment process, how about requiring married people to act as judges? Better yet, how about requiring that the judges be people who have received an annulment themselves?
- Permit clergy to marry and then only married clergy can be marriage tribunal judges. (By the way, with women's increasing earning power, this might save the church a bundle. Wife makes more than priest spouse...they are devout...priest doesn't take a salary from the church...doesn't need healthcare benefits...they can pay their own housing and food bills...priest car allowance not needed...auto insurance paid by wife's income, etc.... The exact opposite situation for going to strict unmarried clergy now exists. Originally the move occurred to protect church property from being divided amongst priests' heirs. Now, women can actually relieve the church's material requirements for supporting priests.)
- How about shortening the application form to one page? I’d even be happy with a reduction to 5 pages. How about putting the form online and allowing it to be submitted electronically with automated workflow and cognitive analytics that provide the recommended ruling? Thus the judge only needs to review the recommended ruling and justification – tremendously expediting the process and introducing a high degree of ruling consistency.
- Fees? Eliminate them completely, even the “administrative” ones.
Anyway, in the meantime while you consider my suggestions, please stop calling minor alterations to an invented process for an invented infraction penalty “merciful” or “simple.” And please stop calling anything “merciful” when you act from a position of superiority versus equality.
Hope to hear from you while you’re in my country but if not, I wish you safe travels, an unvarnished view of my country, and the wisdom and courage to do and say what God desires."
Yours in Christ,