There are two items in the Catholic news this week that have the potential to make important services available to lower-income Catholics who have until this time been unable to afford them:
1. ANNULMENTS. Pope Francis, in an address to the Roman Rota, discussed the possibility of annulments being offered free of charge, so that divorced persons who do not have the means to cover court costs can still obtain an annulment, in order to have their second marriages convalidated and resume full participation in the sacraments.
2. TUITION. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz announced that in his home diocese of Louisville, a new plan will make Catholic schools more affordable by offering tuition assistance to families in need.
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According to the Vatican Insider, the Pope told 300 participants attending a course on “Instructing a Case for the Dispensation of a Marriage ‘Super rato et non consumato’” that some processes in the Church are currently too “long and weighty” for ordinary people, and warned against the Church annulment process being treated like a business. Speaking off-the-cuff before the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on November 5, the Pope pointed out:
“During the Synod, some proposals included trials being held free of charge. We shall have to see . . . But when you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, that is not God-like. Mother Church is so generous that it can provide justice free of charge, as we have been freely justified by Jesus Christ. This is important: separate two things.
Here in the United States, some dioceses–my own Archdiocese of Detroit among them–already offer the services of canon lawyers and archdiocesan staff to provide annulments at no cost to the divorced persons. That is not the case everywhere, however; and reorganizing the diocesan budget so that the substantial legal costs of investigating and hearing an annulment case are borne by the diocese would open the doors to the poor so that they, too, could receive the legal services required to investigate their failed marriages.
As for the Synod proposal to lessen the time required to obtain an annulment, I know personally of one couple who waited through the difficult interview process for twelve years before the annulment was finally granted. That’s twelve years during which the devout Catholic couple were unable to receive communion, while the Church decided whether or not to permit their marriage within the Church.
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Then there’s the tuition issue: According to the Courier-Journal, on November 6 the Archdiocese of Louisville announced a multi-tier plan to double the amount of tuition assistance available to families attending Catholic elementary schools. “We know,” said Superintendent of Schools Leisa Schulz,
“…the cost of Catholic education does make it extremely difficult for all families wanting a Catholic education to be able to avail themselves of it.”
“It’s a new day,” said Archbishop Kurtz,
“… for families who were thinking about Catholic school but were unsure if it’s financially possible for them.”
The Courier-Journal explains:
A key part of the plan involves having every Catholic parish in the archdiocese contribute 1 percent of their revenues to help build a fund for tuition assistance. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said that will provide more than $1 million in new tuition assistance.
According to the plan, 10 percent of those contribution funds will be used to fund the Catholic Education Foundation. The rest will go to the newly created Archdiocesan Voucher Fund.
The Archdiocese also announced it would give a $1,100 tuition discount on elementary school tuition for all families whose household income puts them at 200 percent below the federal poverty guidelines.
With the average cost of elementary school tuition for the first child in a family averaging about $5,500, there are many families for whom Catholic education is not affordable. These families will now have new options which may make a Catholic school education a possibility for their children, just as for the children of middle- and upper-class parents.
In addition to offering its own tuition assistance, the Archdiocese of Louisville is also renewing its campaign to encourage the Kentucky legislature to pass a statewide business tax credit program. The proposed program is similar to one in Pennsylvania that provides tax credits to businesses that donate to a scholarship fund which enables students attending low-performing schools to transfer to other, higher-performing schools.
Other proposals being considered by the Archdiocese’s Elementary Catholic Schools Plan include:
- Looking into transportation options, possibly providing transportation for students who live in parishes without Catholic schools to travel to a parish where a school does exist.
- Looking into other educational options such as a “school within a school”, where Hispanic students with limited English-language skills could improve their English while studying some subjects in Spanish.
The Archdiocese of Louisville, like other dioceses across the country, has experienced a decline in the number of children being educated in Catholic schools. With fewer students enrolled, the Louisville Archdiocese and other dioceses have had to close or consolidate schools. Two key reasons given by parents for not enrolling their children in Catholic schools are (a) affordability, and (b) lack of religious commitment.