As the Church prepares to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has announced a move that it hopes will bring more people back to the sacraments, especially Communion.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said Wednesday that the diocese will no longer charge a fee for the canonical process to determine whether or not they are in a valid marriage.
"This Holy Week, as we remember how Jesus poured out His mercy on us from the Cross and rose from the dead, I am most pleased to announce a decision which I hope will bring many people closer to Jesus and the Sacraments," Bishop Zubik wrote in a letter published on the diocesan website. "Effective immediately, we as a diocese are eliminating all fees for those seeking an annulment in our marriage Tribunal."
The bishop said that he and his staff have "dreamed" of making such an arrangment for some time but that they were inspired to act now because of Pope Francis, who has called for marriage tribunals to “do justice freely, as we have freely been forgiven by Jesus Christ.”
He said that the fee had "partially covered the cost of maintaining a professional office of canon lawyers and support staff, and other expenses involved in processing the cases" but that it had been a roadblock for some people seeking an annulment.
Responding to a query from Aleteia, Father Roger Keeler, executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America, said he would support "any effort that makes it possible for the People of God to approach marriage tribunals, whether those efforts be in informing people about the process and what it is intending to do, in increasing the number of those engaged in the Church’s ministry of justice, in stream-lining the process itself, or in adjusting/eliminating fee structures."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that some dioceses, such as Cleveland, Rochester, N.Y., and St. Petersburg, Fla., have eliminated annulment fees in the past year, and some have done so for years. Many continue to charge fees except in hardship cases.
Pittsburgh’s decision also comes between two gatherings of the Synod of Bishops, which is considering responses to various problems affecting the family, including divorce, and several months before the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit, which will be hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.