NEW YORK (Reuters) - When retired New York City teacher Rosalie Frangella’s marriage ended in the 1980s, she might one day have hoped to wed again - except for the big money that her local Catholic church wanted in order to issue her with an annulment.
Getting hitched at her church, Our Lady of Angels in Brooklyn, had cost just $150 two years earlier. She was shocked to learn that they were asking for a $1,500 annulment fee, which was too expensive for her modest income.
It still rankles with the 60-year-old.
“I resent the fact that they want such a large donation. I can afford it now, but I feel that to ask for more money from me is not fair,” Frangella told Reuters after she and others in a group toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
She never got the annulment. “It’s on hold because I’m waiting to hear what Pope Francis says about the finances.”
Going to the heart of how divorced adherents are treated, Pope Francis called in a lengthy document on Friday for a more compassionate approach toward “imperfect” Catholics, saying “no one can be condemned forever.”
The pontiff’s eagerly-anticipated work was broadly welcomed by those U.S. followers who have been made to feel alienated by the Church’s rules on divorce, although the treatise lacked details of how that would work in practice and did not touch on Church funding.
Currently, Catholics who divorce and then remarry in civil ceremonies cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, since their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the Church.
Frangella - who has not remarried, in part because she could not wed in church - said she appreciated the Pope’s comments, and that a local member of the clergy had offered to pay for the annulment.
“I refused to take it,” she said. “I had too much pride but that did restore my faith in the Church. It kept me around.”
Progressives have suggested that these instances be dealt with individually by a priest or bishop to see if the person can be re-integrated and receive communion. Francis seemed to back that stance in his letter, calling for there to be “responsible, personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
Vatican officials portrayed his treatise as a classic case of the “organic development of doctrine,” while U.S. Church officials welcomed it as wise and realistic.
“I was ... touched by our Holy Father’s call for all of us in the Church to reach out with compassion to wounded families and persons living in difficult situations,” the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose H. Gomez, wrote in a statement.
A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that U.S. Catholics want the church to be welcoming to people living in a variety of non-traditional arrangements.
Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago called the treatise a very radical change in how the Church deals with people who live “everyday lives” and struggle to be faithful to the gospel.
He told reporters he would not exclude anyone who divorces and remarries, and that he hoped pastors would use discretion when dealing with individual marital circumstances.
“There is no situation that can be replicated,” Cupich said. “Every instance has its own variables that are a part of it.”
At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Deanna Elliott, who works as director of operations at an Atlanta-based Protestant church, said her whole family history might have been different if the Catholic stance on divorce had not been so strict.
Her mother-in-law was a practicing Catholic until she married a man who had been divorced and the Church denounced her, said Elliott, who was visiting New York City with her adolescent daughter for spring break.
“And our whole entire family would have probably been Catholic if it wasn’t for that one instance. That happened in the ‘60s. That changed our whole entire family.”
Additional reporting by Justin Madden in Chicago; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Alistair Bell