Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I have two daughters with two children each. Sadly, the older daughter has been divorced now for about a year and a half. She has come back to the church and is receiving the sacraments and has not remarried.

The younger one is separated and is heading for divorce. She would like to come back to the church but is not quite ready yet. I’ve been telling them that without annulments to their first marriages, they cannot continue to receive the sacraments. I haven’t discussed with my daughters how money enters into the annulment process.

I keep hearing rumors — which I hope are just that — that annulments cost money and that the more money one provides, the better chance one has of getting an annulment, or of getting it speedily. Please set me straight so that I can advise them correctly. (Virginia Beach, Va.)

A. I want to focus first on your statement that “without annulments to their first marriages, they cannot continue to receive the sacraments.” That is untrue — although, sadly, many people believe it. Divorce, by itself, does not render a Catholic ineligible for the Eucharist. Only a second marriage — without church approval — does that, and neither of your daughters has at this point entered into a second marriage.

Another point of clarification: You speak of your daughters “coming back to the church,” which makes me wonder whether they may have drifted away from regular practice because their first marriages took place without church approval.

If so, those marriages can be rendered null very simply, with a minimum of paperwork. If, instead, those earlier marriages were “done right” in the church’s eyes, they could still be annulled if there were circumstances from the start which precluded a true sacramental union — which requires testimony from the petitioner and (if willing) from the former spouse, as well as from witnesses who knew the couple at the time of the marriage.

Finally, regarding your concern about the cost of the annulment process, because annulments require significant staff time, sometimes follow-up interviews or evaluation of testimony by psychologists, petitioners are generally asked to help defray the cost. In our diocese, they are asked to contribute $350.

Here is what our annulment brochure tells the applicant: “If anyone requires a reduction or total waiver of the fee, the tribunal will arrange to honor such a request.”

And then (all in upper-case letters): “Under no circumstances will a person’s petition be rejected because that person is unable or unwilling to meet the expense incurred by the tribunal in a given case.”

That statement is typical of all dioceses and should lay to rest the widely circulated myth that money has any bearing on an annulment.

Q. I have read a statement by a religion writer that Jesus spoke more about hell than about heaven. Is this a fact, and are you aware of any research that supports such a statement? (Although I know that Jesus definitely did speak of hell, I have always felt that this was balanced by the times he referred to people being in union with God in the next world.) (Lancaster, Ohio)

A. The difficulty of doing a “word search” is that Jesus uses several different expressions for heaven and for hell, and each must be interpreted according to the context.

One commentator on religion, a man named John Wallace who writes a blog called “John’s Ramblings,” attempted the comparison you asked about. He looked at the times the Bible referenced Christ talking about “paradise” and “kingdom of heaven” and matched them against quotes including expressions such as “Gehenna,” a Hebrew word also referencing hell, and “darkness.”

His conclusion was that heaven was spoken of by Jesus in the Gospels 123 times and hell used 27 times. No tally will be universally accepted. But the important thing is that Jesus talked about heaven and hell.

***

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.