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The Deacon's Bench

Some people are predicting a “crackdown,” at least in the United States, but the people in a position to know disagree:

American Catholic marriage tribunalists are denying rumors of a Vatican crackdown on the high number of annulments granted in the United States.

Secular news reports on Pope Benedict XVI’s late January comments to the Roman Rota, the Church’s court of final appeal, used “crackdown” in headlines and singled out the Church in the United States as the target of Benedict’s comments about tribunals showing a “false charity” untempered by justice and granting annulments erroneously.

But these stories failed to back up their sensational headlines with documentary evidence or named sources.

“U.S. annulment rate may spur Vatican crackdown,” warned the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a March 20 story, which began with a discussion of the therapeutic value of annulment for one St. Louis woman previously divorced by her husband. Beyond the headline, it said nothing about a crackdown; it did attribute to “some Vatican sources” the opinion that “the Church may decrease the number of annulments.”

A Jan. 29 Associated Press story interpreted Benedict as having told the Roman Rota “that they shouldn’t confuse ‘pastoral charity’ in granting annulments with their need to uphold Church law.”

The story goes on to claim, without giving evidence, that “the Vatican’s concern is seen as being mainly directed at the United States, which in 2006 had more annulment cases launched than the rest of the world combined,” though only 6% of the world’s Catholics live here.

The Vatican’s Annuario (statistical yearbook) of 2007 shows 60% of the Church’s annulments coming from American petitioners, 5% from Italy, 4% each from Poland and Brazil, and 28% from the rest of the world.

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