SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- In countries where Catholics make up less than 50 precent of the population, significantly more marriage annulments are granted than in countries where the Catholic church dominates, says a new study to be presented August 24 at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association by Melissa Wilde of the UC-Berkeley Sociology department.
Analyzing Vatican data from 15 countries, Wilde found higher annulment rates in countries where the Catholic church is not subsidized or supported by the state, and in which Catholics make up less than 50 percent of the population (US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands) compared with countries where the Catholic church is the dominant religion (Poland, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, the Philippines, Columbia, Germany and France).
"This suggests that the church uses annulments as a way to market themselves in competitive environments," Wilde said. "If they didn't grant annulments in countries like the U.S., they would lose members who would get married and raise their children in another church. In countries where the Catholic church is the only option, however, it can afford to be more conservative."
Annulment rates have risen since the Second Vatican Council made them easier to get. The rise has not been distributed evenly across countries, however. The largest rise of annulments since the 1960s has occurred in the U.S. Just 400 annulments were granted in 1968, but by 1978, the church handed out 45,000 (an increase of 11,250 percent). By 1983 the 67,000 annulments were granted in the United States. The number has leveled off since then, but still exceeds 60,000 annually.
Melissa Wilde is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. She has an article forthcoming in EPOCHE: Journal for the Study of Religions, titled, "Annulment: Catholic Divorce in the US?," which focuses on the similarities between reforms in divorce legislation over the past century and subsequent annulment reform in the United States.