New policy: no contribution required for cancellation cases in the Archdiocese of Baltimore

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Dominican Father D. Reginald Whitt, from left to right, Father Gilbert J. Seitz, Judicial Vicar and Father Hamilton Okeke, lawyer, meet on August 5, 2021 at the Court Office of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Kevin J. Parks / CR staff)

The Court of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will no longer ask for a contribution to deal with a cancellation case.

Archbishop William E. Lori implemented the policy change, which took effect on July 1. This was in response to a request from Pope Francis in 2015 to make the cancellation process faster and cheaper for couples.

In the documents reforming the cancellation process published by Pope Francis in 2015 – in particular “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the gentle judge”) for the Latin rite church – the main objective of the Pope was to reaffirm the indissolubility of marriage while offering pastoral care, mercy and a helping hand to people whose broken unions were faulty from the start.

Father Gilbert J. Seitz, judicial vicar of the archdiocese, told Revue Catholique: “The Holy Father has tried to convince ministers of justice all over the world – both in Rome and in other dioceses around the world – to remove any obstacles that would prevent people from going to court and seeing a resolution of the marital relationship issue.

“As a result, Bishop Lori thought it appropriate, especially in this year, as we celebrate the year of the Eucharist, that in Baltimore, we take the actions the Holy Father has suggested and remove. this obstacle, ”said Father Seitz. .

In the past, the Archdiocese requested a contribution of up to $ 550 per case, but the contribution was not required. “It wasn’t really a fee; it wasn’t like you had to make that payment or you wouldn’t receive a final decree from us, ”he said.

If people could make their contribution, the Tribunal was happy to accept it to help cover its costs of reviewing and processing the case.

Many people believed there was a “charge” for a cancellation, but there was not.

“If they were not in a position to make their contribution, in no way would our service to them or our ministry to them in this matter be interrupted due to the lack of payment,” said Father Seitz. “We just asked people for this contribution and if they could, if their means allowed it, then we were very welcoming to receive it, but if their means did not allow it, then it became inconsequential.”

Due to the new policy, there is no longer any financial contribution or ministry-related financial commitment that the Tribunal offers to those in need, he added.

“The concern of the Archbishop, like that of the Holy Father, is that all obstacles be removed so that people can go to the courts when they need it without being (financially) burdened”, said the father. Seitz.

Since the Tribunal’s financial approach has been so accommodating in the past, he said, some people approaching the Tribunal to begin the annulment process are not surprised that no contribution is requested, but they are “extremely grateful that the financial burden has been lightened.” , especially in the midst of a pandemic and uncertain economy. I think people are just thankful that it’s a burden they don’t have to worry about, ”he said.

Dominican Father D. Reginald Whitt, court judge, left, discusses a case with Father Gilbert J. Seitz, judicial vicar, August 5, 2021 at the court office of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Kevin J. Parks / CR staff)

The Archdiocesan court processes between 150 and 180 marriage cases per year using the formal process. Father Seitz said that one of the reforms instituted by Pope Francis’ letters in 2015 to make the process more “user-friendly” was to eliminate “the need for an automatic appeal if a lower court decision is pending. favor of the invalidity of the marriage, that is, granting annulment.

That alone made a significant difference in the speed of the process. Since every court in the province of Baltimore – which includes much of Maryland and the states of Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia – has spent time reviewing invalidity cases from other dioceses, the burden of less work allows the court to complete cases more quickly.

“Usually in the Archdiocese of Baltimore right now, as in other dioceses across the province, it would be realistic to complete a case in about six months,” said Father Seitz.

He said that resolving marriage matters brought before the Tribunal is essentially pastoral care in the form of a canon law process, the law of the church.

“Our ministry, more than anything else, is to enable people to meet the Lord Jesus,” said the judicial vicar. “So many people, because of the hurt and pain of divorce, feel estranged from old family members, maybe their own family members, from the church.

“And they come to us grieved and laden with these wounds and pains, and our hope is that by using the legal process that the church establishes in a very pastoral way, we can help facilitate some healing for these people. people, which would then allow them to recognize themselves as a member of the Body of Christ, wounded but healed, and as someone who has encountered the risen Jesus, wounded and healed, ”he said.

“And it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you take this hurt and this healing feeling and share it with others. “

Father Seitz said he often reminded his staff that they could follow legal procedures well and with unspeakable precision, but “if we haven’t done it in a way that allows people to meet Christ risen, we did not perform our service to them as it should.

He said one of the tactics he employs is to carefully consider a petition request or petition to initiate a case, before initiating the formal case process.

If the petition is weak or lacks something, he will not accept it, sometimes encouraging the minister working with the party to delve into the reasons for the cancellation. This way, if and when the petition is accepted and the case begins, the questions posed by the Tribunal can be better targeted to obtain the information judges need to make a decision.

Without this care and concern, the case could go to its end and get a negative decision. “This, for me, will only add to the hurt and the pain that people have gone through,” said Father Seitz.

Even so, the process is not always easy for those going through it, as they have to approach and acknowledge some things about their failed relationship that they would rather not admit.

“I hope we can do it in a way that people feel safe and not being judged,” Father Seitz said. “And if we do that right, we can help people grow and heal. And this is our first concern because in the end it achieves their salvation. “

He said that in some cases the decree of nullity may also allow people to return to the sacraments in their entirety. He pointed out that it is incorrect that all divorced Catholics are unable to receive the Eucharist. Only those who are divorced and remarried outside the church should not receive the Eucharist.

“As we grow and heal we can find ourselves closer to the Lord Jesus and when we are closer to the Lord Jesus we are that much closer to our salvation,” he said.

Father Seitz said he hoped that no longer being asked for a financial contribution for the cancellation process would allow people to “make a financial contribution or a contribution of their talent to other needs of the world.” archdiocese or the church at large. Perhaps the money that would have come to us because of our service to someone could be donated to a homeless shelter or to advance the cause of justice in the Archdiocese, ”said Father Seitz .

“Perhaps because of our service to people, they will find themselves able to give more generously of their time to a cause that advances the gospel.”

To begin the cancellation process, Father Seitz said parishioners can contact their local parish or contact the Tribunal directly.

For more information, visit www.archbalt.org/marriage-tribunal.

Email Christopher Gunty at [email protected].

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