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US Catholics React to Annulment Reforms


FILE - Pope Francis hoists the Gospel book as he celebrates a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Oct. 5, 2014, to open the extraordinary Synod on the family.

FILE - Pope Francis hoists the Gospel book as he celebrates a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Oct. 5, 2014, to open the extraordinary Synod on the family.

Pope Francis recently announced reforms that would make getting an annulment faster and less expensive for divorced Catholics.

While the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize divorce, it does in some cases grant an annulment – a declaration that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place – if church officials rule that the marriage was lacking in in some way from the start.

For example, if it can be shown that one spouse wasn’t emotionally mature enough to make a lifelong commitment, the church may declare the marriage invalid. An annulment allows divorced Catholics to remarry and receive Communion.

Catherine Wolpert, 49, of Walla Walla, Washington, is torn by the pronouncement.

Annulment process

Wolpert, who calls herself a conservative, traditional Catholic, is divorced and seeking an annulment. She said her husband harbored a secret that affected their entire marriage, making the sacrament invalid “from the get-go,” which is why she’s seeking an annulment.

“I don’t believe in divorce. That was not an option for me,” said Wolpert, who has seven children with her ex-husband. Prior to her divorce, “I thought annulments were ridiculous.”

Wolpert began the annulment process about a year ago, and said she doesn’t know when she’ll receive an answer.

She said she wants the church to validate that her marriage was invalid.

“That’s all I want,” she said, adding that she would rather go through the lengthy, arduous process than the fast-track method, because “I want it [the annulment] to be hard to get. It’s another way to honor your faith.”

Pope Francis greets newlyweds during the general audience at the Vatican, Aug. 5, 2015. Pope Francis says divorced Catholics who remarry and their children deserve better treatment from the Catholic church.

Pope Francis greets newlyweds during the general audience at the Vatican, Aug. 5, 2015. Pope Francis says divorced Catholics who remarry and their children deserve better treatment from the Catholic church.

Geraldine O’Mahoney Hildreth of Hobe Sound, Florida, agreed, saying she fears “fast-tracking” – it could take 30 to 45 days to receive an annulment through the simplified reforms – will treat the subject too lightly.

Hildreth said she had helped someone with the paperwork involved to obtain a decree of nullity, as annulments are known in the church.

“It was a remarkable, cleansing, cathartic experience for him, and deeply moving for me. I would like everyone going through the process to be helped to heal in this way, and anything that moves it in the direction of ‘rubber-stamping’ will remove that benefit,” she said.

‘Lacked timeliness’

Jannet Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota, said she waited one-and-a-half years to receive her annulment when she was a member to the Diocese of Orlando in Orlando, Florida.

“The process can be healing and bureaucratic at the same time,” Walsh said, adding that after the long wait she wrote a letter to the diocese about her paperwork and received the annulment about two weeks later.

“It was difficult to be divorced, but the annulment process lacked timeliness, the biggest flaw,” she said. “The process nearly broke my relationship with the church, as I doubted, and it was apparent, my application was not being taken seriously and handled in a timely manner.”

A Pew Research Center survey found that most divorced U.S. Catholics who did not seek annulments did not cite the cost or the complicated nature of the process as reason for not seeking one.

Pew found the most common answer was that divorced Catholics did not seek an annulment because they did not see it as necessary or did not want to get an annulment (43 percent).

The divorce rate for U.S. Catholics is about 25 percent, according to the Pew survey; overall, 30 percent of U.S. adults have experienced a divorce.

Just last month, Pope Francis called on the church to not only embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, but to also welcome those who have remarried without an annulment to receive the Eucharist.

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