Continuing a practice begun during the just-completed Year of Mercy, the archdiocese will extend the waiver of fees in annulment cases.
Cardinal Dolan brought the matter to the archdiocesan Priests Council, which gave him a “clear recommendation” to continue the policy, beginning on Nov. 21, the day after the Year of Mercy ended.
Calling Pope Francis “a man of signs,” as exemplified during the Year of Mercy, Cardinal Dolan told CNY the waiver of annulment fees is “a good sign” that “we want to welcome people back and work with them.”
“Our job in the Church is to get people back and get them to the sacraments,” the cardinal said. “Anything that will help with that, I’m going to do it.”
Father Richard Welch, C.Ss.R., the judicial vicar of the archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal, said that rolling back the fees has led to “a big jump” in the number of annulment cases that the tribunal will hear this year, from 196 to 380.
“Our caseload has literally doubled,” he said. “It is related in large part to the fee.”
Dispensing with the charges, except for a $100 filing fee, also dismisses “the inaccurate and odious perception” that applying for a declaration of nullity “costs so much money that only rich people could do it,” the cardinal said.
“Traditionally, the archdiocese has always been willing to accommodate anybody who can’t pay. If this will help people come in, I think it’s well worth it.”
Previously, Father Welch said, petitioners seeking an annulment paid a processing fee of $1,100 along with the filing fee.
He credited Cardinal Dolan for ultimately making the decision to drop the fee, and to forego reinstating it after the Year of Mercy ended.
“If not having a fee is a merciful act, then it shouldn’t be restricted to a year,” Father Welch said.
Cardinal Dolan noted that it may not “be fair” to attribute all of the increase in cases to the elimination of fees, noting Pope Francis’ modification of the annulment process “may have encouraged some people as well.”
Among the changes, outlined in an apostolic letter motu proprio, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus,” which Pope Francis issued in 2015, was the elimination of the need for an automatic appeal of the declaration of nullity.
Instead of each annulment decision being appealed to a second court, Father Welch said he expects only about 15 cases from dioceses in New York will be appealed annually.
Even with the large increase in annulment cases over the past year, Father Welch said he believes that the Metropolitan Tribunal will continue to finish cases in an average of four to six months, as has been its practice for the past several years. “We’re hoping to maintain that level of efficiency,” he said.
Father Welch noted that the archdiocese has two of its priests (Father Nicholas Callaghan and Father Brian Taylor) and a laywoman, Katherine Devorak, studying canon law in Rome. It is expected that all will serve the Metropolitan Tribunal after their studies are complete.
“The cardinal sent them all to Rome,” Father Welch said. “I’m very happy that the cardinal has invested in these young priests studying canon law. He’s thinking about the future of the archdiocese and the Tribunal.”