Fewer Catholics seek marriage annulments in Northern Ireland
The number of Catholic marriage annulments in Northern Ireland has plummeted by around two thirds over the last 20 years, it can be revealed.
Figures obtained from the Armagh Inter-Diocesan Marriage Tribunal show that the number of applications has fallen from 315 in 1995 to a current total of around 100 — despite new rules to speed up the process. The Armagh Tribunal covers the Dioceses of Clogher, Derry, Down and Connor, Dromore, Kilmore, and Raphoe, and the Archdiocese of Armagh.
The figures cover Northern Ireland and some nearby areas in the Republic.
Many Dioceses record their own statistics, but the reduced applications recorded by the
Armagh Tribunal almost certainly reflect the overall picture across Ireland.
A similar decrease has been experienced in the UK. At the start of 2016 there were 639 annulment applications being processed in England and Wales, and 144 in Scotland. Some 75% of these were granted.
The numbers in the UK have also decreased because of the large drop in Catholic marriages in England and Wales — from 15,181 in 1995 to 7,798 in 2014.
Fr Joseph Rooney, who is the Judicial Vicar with the Armagh Tribunal, commented: “A number of factors may explain the decrease in applications, not excluding the growing secularization of society where there are fewer church marriages.
In previous years when the applications for nullity were much higher, there was a large number of teenage marriages. In more recent times, people are marrying at a later age, which suggests a greater maturity.
“We are also in a sociological situation where some people whose church marriage has broken down are happy to proceed with a civil ceremony when they get married again.”
It is understood that there were around 90 applications for annulment last year from Catholics in the six Dioceses which are covered by the Armagh Tribunal, of which some 70 were successful.
In 2015, Pope Francis set out ways to simplify the Tribunals’ decision-making, and in certain cases enabled Bishops to step in to speed up the process.
Fr Rooney added: “The new measures have been found helpful not only by members of Tribunals but also by the people applying for annulments and seeking our help.”