Following a media frenzy around Pope Francis' request that the annulment process not be treated like a business, an official of the Apostolic See's court of higher instance has explained that annulment procedures are already free in most cases. He also blamed the media for providing a biased examination of the issues. Msgr. Piero Amenta, a prelate auditor of the Roman Rota, stressed in a lengthy Nov. 14 article in Italian at korazym.org that “ecclesiastical tribunals do not make business on wedding woes.” The Roman Rota is a tribunal, usually at the appellate stage, which safeguards rights within the Church. In a Nov. 5 address to canonists participating in a course at the Roman Rota, Pope Francis said “it's also needed to be very attentive that the procedures are not within the framework of business,” adding that he dismissed someone from a tribunal once who had said, “Give me $10,000 and I’ll take care of both processes: the civil and the ecclesiastical.” The Pope added that “when you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, it is not of God!” He also emphasized that justice and the salvation of souls are inseparable, and that these are the center of the process. When the secular media highlighted the Pope's comments and suggested he wants the nullity process to be free of charge, Msgr. Amenta called it “a superficial reading of the Pope’s speech.” “Pope Francis did not say that procedures for the eventual declaration of nullity must be free. In the end, he just said that we must be attentive that procedures do not take place in the framework of profits, and he added that ‘in the Synod, some proposals have spoken about gratuity, we will see’; and this response cannot be defined as an affirmation,” Msgr. Amenta wrote. Msgr. Amenta underscored that “it is not true that ecclesiastical tribunals make profits over wedding woes,” since “53 percent” of the processes adjudicated at the Rota are free, and the “contribution to the expenses of the procedures is very low, about 525 Euros 'una tantum'” — a one-time fee of $650. The Rota's prelate auditor also explained that the Italian bishops' conference, for example, also has a defined payment structure for canon lawyers, who cannot be paid more than $3,610, or less than $1,870. However, “the tribunals are always provided with court-appointed attorneys who are kept to follow the procedures for those who ask their assistance for economic reasons, without any other expense beyond the contribution to the procedure's expenses.” That “the Church’s tribunals are places where wrongdoing takes place is truly an urban legend,” Msgr. Amenta said, probably spread by “people who probably never stepped in a Church tribunal.” He conceded that there are individual lawyers who do not respect the price ceiling, but added that “these are painful cases, and isolated ones; they are prosecuted when denounced,” saying the Pope's dismissal of a tribunal official was just such an example. The Pope's address, far from desiring an end to judicial procedures to assess if a marriage is null, suggests that the processes must be maintained, and streamlined, the priest said. “First, the necessity for processes remains,” Msgr. Amenta wrote. “It is not a superfluous work in the Church. While some would like the idea of a Church without these structures, or without any structures whatsoever, the Pope reaffirmed that the salvation of souls is not found outside of justice, as those who oppose law and and pastoral care would suppose; such a dichotomy is wrong, because the Code of Canon Law is and must be a pastoral instrument.” A second finding from the Pope's address, he stated, is “ that the processes must be streamlined,” noting the commission, established Aug. 27, which is studying a reform of the annulment process. The commission will examine, he suggested, “the possibility of offering more jurisdictional structures, especially in those countries where distances are large and the tribunals deal with enormous areas, which do not favor the participation of the faithful except a a grave inconvenience.” While acknowledging Pope Francis' desire that economic and spiritual interests not be attached to one another, Msgr. Amenta said that it is “undeniable that the Church itself needs the means, however modest, to pursue spiritual interests,” and this is the reason why “the faithful are invited to give the offering they are able to, when they ask for religious services which require an expenditure of money,” citing the practice of giving stipends for such events as weddings and funerals. “And I must say, according to my experience, that the faithful are very generous, when they can concretely see the benefits they have for themselves and their families.”
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