Long delays in processing applications for marriage annulments are forcing some Catholics to opt for a live-in relationship or civil marriage, or even threaten to break away from the Church altogether, according to a Goan church leader.
Father Rosario Oliveira, judicial vicar of Goa and Daman, says the archdiocesan court has seven qualified judges, which is not enough to handle the ever increasing caseload. In both 2007 and 2008 the court received just 50 applications, but the figure jumped to 71 in 2009 with many more expected this year.
Father Oliviera points out that annulments should be completed within 12 months but many cases have dragged on for years. Church law does not stipulate the maximum number of years a case can be allowed to continue.
The situation is further complicated by a rule that individual cases cannot be transferred between one judge and another, and the court’s senior priests face various health problems because of their age, which makes it difficult for them to all assemble for the sittings that are mandatory to ratify a verdict.
Wilfred Pereira, a Dubai-based journalist, says he had to wait 14 years for his annulment. “Had someone been in my place, he might have even lost faith in the church and turned to some other sect,” he says.