September 9, 2015

Relatively few U.S. Catholics skipped annulment because of cost or complications

Catholics Seeking AnnulmentPope Francis has announced major changes to the Roman Catholic Church’s procedures for marriage annulments. While the new changes are aimed at making annulments faster and less expensive, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that most divorced U.S. Catholics who did not seek annulments did not cite the complicated nature of the process as a reason.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriages are unbreakable unions, and thus remarrying after a divorce (without an annulment) is a sin. But an annulment – a declaration from the church that a marriage was never valid – makes it possible for divorced Catholics to enter a new marriage and still be eligible to receive Communion.

A quarter of U.S. Catholic adults say they have experienced a divorce, according to our survey. That’s somewhat fewer than among U.S. adults overall (30%). Among U.S. Catholics who have ever been divorced, roughly a quarter (26%) say they or their former spouse have sought an annulment from the Catholic Church.

The survey asked all U.S. Catholics who have been divorced and have not sought an annulment why they did not do so.

The most common type of answer was that Catholics did not seek an annulment because they did not see it as necessary or did not want to get an annulment (43%). And about one-in-five divorced U.S. Catholics who did not seek an annulment say they were not married in the Catholic Church in the first place (21%), and may have thought they were ineligible for an annulment.

Catholics Views on AnnulmentOnly about one-in-ten say they did not attempt to get an annulment because it was too expensive (7%) or too complicated or time-consuming (4%).

While there were not enough respondents who were divorced and remarried without an annulment to analyze separately in the survey, they can be looked at together with Catholics who are currently living with a romantic partner outside of marriage, another group presumably ineligible for Communion in the eyes of the church.

In this combined group, 34% say they receive Communion every time they attend Mass – fewer than the 45% of all other U.S. Catholics who say the same. But still, only about three-in-ten (29%) Catholics who are cohabiting or divorced and remarried without an annulment say they never receive Communion, while an additional 5% say they never attend Mass.

About a third (35%) of all U.S. Catholics say remarrying after a divorce without an annulment is a sin. Roughly half (49%) say this is not a sin. And about six-in-ten Catholics (62%) say the church should allow divorced Catholics who remarry without getting an annulment to receive Communion, while 54% say they expect this change to happen in the next few decades.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Marriage and Divorce

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.