Couples seeking a marriage annulment in the Cleveland diocese no longer have to pay a fee for the service.
Under a plan announced June 4 by Bishop Richard Lennon, all fees in annulment cases were eliminated. Cases already filed as well as marriage dispensations and marriage permissions also are covered by the policy change.
Lennon said in a press release that he hoped the change will encourage men and women in irregular marriages, especially those who have been divorced and remarried, to undertake greater participation in the life of the church.
The diocese's judicial vicar said the announcement was welcomed by the diocesan marriage tribunal staff.
"It is important because the process is difficult to begin with and to put another stumbling block in the way of individuals, who especially in this time are experiencing financial difficulties, seems to be rather unfair," Fr. Gary Yanus told Catholic News Service.
"People who want to address their right as Catholics to the sacramental life of the church, it seems the fee discourages a number of people from presenting a case which has merit. This is a good way of encouraging people to come forward and see where they stand with the church and reflect on their life with the Lord and the church as well," Yanus said.
Cleveland is the most recent diocese to waive fees for annulments. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, as archbishop of Detroit, eliminated fees for tribunal services in the 1980s. The diocese of Columbus, Ohio, ended its fees in 2000.
The decision comes at no small cost to the Cleveland diocese. In 2013, with 512 annulment cases filed and the diocese's estimated average cost of $450, the diocese is forfeiting more than $230,000 in fees.
Yanus said the diocese is on pace to receive 500 to 600 annulment applications in 2014. He said he was unsure whether the number would rise in the future because of the change.
The waiver includes all fees related to any psychological assessments that must be undertaken as a case winds its way through the marriage tribunal.
"People (at the marriage tribunal) think of their jobs as ministry and are very pleased that hopefully we'll be able to reach more people," Yanus said. "We see this as a reconciling ministry as well and to take a significant obstacle out of the way is really a great thing."
Lennon cited Pope Francis' oft-repeated called for mercy within the church in making the announcement.
"This is an effort to promote the common good for the faithful of Cleveland," the bishop said.
The status of divorced and remarried Catholics in the church is expected to be among the topics discussed during this fall's world Synod of Bishops on the family.