Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. The news reports of settlements made in the millions of dollars to victims of clergy sex abuse trouble me. Were there secret assets from wills and estates on reserve for that purpose? Where did all that money come from? (Metuchen, New Jersey)

A. National Public Radio reported in August 2018 that dioceses and religious orders in the United States had thus far paid settlements totaling more than $3 billion to victims of clergy sexual abuse. The settlements have come, not from any “secret assets,” but from a combination of cash, proceeds from the sale of land and buildings, and from insurance payments.

What must be said first, though, is that no financial amount is sufficient to compensate victims for their suffering. As Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said in May 2018 when announcing a settlement of $210 million in restitution to several hundred survivors, “I recognize that the abuse stole so much from you — your childhood, your innocence, your safety, your ability to trust and, in many cases, your faith. … The church let you down, and I’m very sorry.”


That particular settlement came from approximately $170 million from insurance carriers as well as the sale of diocesan assets, including its three chancery buildings on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul. The plan stipulates that a minimum of $50,000 be awarded to each claimant. In 2010, when the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, settled 26 lawsuits for nearly $18 million, it put its diocesan administration building and a former Catholic summer camp on the real estate market to help cover the cost.

Q. Is there a fee for nullity? (I was married in a Methodist church and now want to get remarried in a Catholic ceremony.) (City of origin withheld)

A. In 2015, Pope Francis, in speaking to the Vatican’s marriage tribunal, expressed his desire that all annulment processes should be free of charge. (He also intimated that a fair number of marriages might actually be invalid and that tribunal judges should seek to “determine if there was an original lack of consent, either directly because of a lack of a valid intention, or because of a grave lack of understanding of marriage itself.”)

Previous to this, diocesan marriage courts customarily charged a fairly nominal fee for processing an annulment — to cover the cost, for example, of having the testimony evaluated by a psychologist. (Fees were waived in cases of financial difficulty.) Since 2015, though, certainly most dioceses — if not all — have eliminated the fees entirely.

Anyhow, in your case the issue of fees is irrelevant since you don’t need a full-fledged marriage annulment. I am not entirely sure, from your question, whether the woman you now want to marry in a Catholic ceremony is the same woman you married earlier in the Methodist church.

If it is — and assuming that you had not received a dispensation from the Catholic Church to marry her in the Methodist ceremony — what you would need to do is to go to confession and tell the priest that you were married in a ceremony not approved by the Catholic Church. Then you would be clear to marry her in a Catholic ceremony.

If, however, your earlier (Methodist) marriage was to a different woman, you do need to get that marriage cleared away before being married in a Catholic ceremony.

What you would need now is just a declaration that this earlier marriage was never recognized by the Catholic Church — a decree from a Catholic tribunal stating the “absence of canonical form.” This is far simpler than a marriage annulment — and much quicker. Your first step should be to talk to your parish priest — or any priest you know — and he will guide you through the process.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.