VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Wednesday denounced the hardships Catholics can face when seeking marriage annulments, revealing he once fired an official who tried to charge thousands of dollars for one.
Francis told participants at a Vatican course for officials dealing with annulments that as bishop of Buenos Aires, he was dismayed to learn that some faithful needed to travel hundreds of miles and lose days of work to reach church tribunals.
He also recalled sacking an unidentified church tribunal official, possibly a lawyer, who told someone: "Give me $10,000 and I'll take care" of the annulment process.
"One must be careful that the procedures don't become a business," Francis said.
The Vatican teaches that matrimony is a sacrament and forbids divorce. Many Catholics wanting to end their marriages seek annulments, a church ruling their union was invalid and thus, essentially, never existed. Possible reasons include a spouse who never intended to be faithful or who was psychologically too immature to understand the forever nature of marriage in the Catholic church.
Annulments allow Catholics to marry again in the church.
Francis said he was considering requests, made at a recent Vatican meeting of bishops about families, to make annulments cost-free.
Many dioceses customarily ask annulment petitioners to pay hundreds of dollars to defray administrative costs, but some are now dropping fees, as a northern Indiana diocese started doing last month.
Francis reiterated his resolve to streamline annulment processes, which are sometimes "so long and so weighty," he said, that people become "discouraged."
Divorced Catholics who remarry without annulments cannot receive Communion since the Vatican considers them as adulterers living in sin. Many such divorced Catholics are hoping the pontiff, who says he wants a merciful church, will relent and let them receive Communion.