09 December 2016, The Tablet
Dioceses in England have seen a substantial increase in the number of couples enquiring about marriage annulments after Pope Francis introduced changes to streamline the process and make it more accessible.
Dioceses including Birmingham, Leeds, Clifton, Southwark, Portsmouth and Westminster have reported a substantial increase in requests for information, with Judicial Vicars from other dioceses also noticing a rise in applications, according to research carried out by The Tablet.
In December last year, at the opening of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio with several reforms to the Church’s annulment process. Under the new guidelines a couple seeking nullification of their marriage is no longer required to have the decision ratified by a second tribunal, shortening the time it takes to receive a decision.
Cases considered straightforward and with clear evidence can bypass the formal channel and be sent directly to the local bishop for a decision; cases brought by couples born in other countries can now be heard in the diocese in which the petitioner lives; and the Pope has said that annulments should be free for all couples.
Mgr John Conneely, the Judicial Vicar at Westminster, said that since the introduction of the Pope’s motu proprio, he has seen an increase of about 60 per cent of nullity cases started in the diocese. He explained that one of the biggest factors driving this trend is the change to the rules governing tribunal jurisdictions. “Given the large number of Catholics living in the Diocese of Westminster who come from abroad, the old rules meant many people who would have liked to apply to our Tribunal were not able to do so.”
Deacon Vincent Calder, administrator in Clifton Diocese’s marriage tribunal, where numbers have gone from an average of 18 a year to 48 so far in 2016, said he believed the increase was down to the new hope people were experiencing under Francis. “Priests have been encouraged to refer cases to us immediately instead of trying to resolve them themselves”, he said. “People are more hopeful under Francis that they’ll get a hearing … it’s wonderful.”
But other dioceses have not witnessed such an influx. Fr David Hayman, chancellor in Cardiff Diocese, said: “I know some dioceses have seen a large increase, especially when it comes to certain cultures, but that hasn’t been our experience. I couldn’t say we’ve seen a significant increase, but we don’t have the same degree of immigration.”