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Decree of INValidity

Annulments…A Time for Healing & Reconciliation


The Historical Origins of Tribunals

Since the first century Christians have submitted their disputes to the adjudication of the local Bishop as leader of the believing community. A system of ecclesiastical courts or Church tribunals gradually evolved and was established to deal with cases touching on the rights, obligations and concerns of members of the Church. The substantive law and procedure to be used in ecclesiastical cases in our modern era is set out comprehensively in the CODE OF CANON LAW, promulgated by Papal authority in 1983. A copy of the CODE is available in your local public library, or online at the Vatican web site.

The most common kind of formal controversy in modern Church life is that which arises when one party to a Christian marriage challenges the validity of that union and files a plaint of nullity before an ecclesiastical tribunal. The intention behind the Petitioner’s suit is that the same Church authority which pronounced the couple man and wife on the day of their exchange of wedding vows will now permit the plaintiff to present evidence questioning the validity of the union.

Church Law obliges the Tribunal to determine as soon as possible whether there are indeed solid grounds for the formal acceptance of the plaint of nullity. Secondly, the other party to the marriage, the Respondent, must be informed when the Tribunal intends to accept a case and must be invited to give whatever evidence he or she may wish to present. Unlike a civil tribunal, a Church court has no power of “sub poena” to coerce persons to appear. Moreover, because of the delicacy of the subject matter under review, people are interviewed either by questionnaire, by phone or individually and under oath in a confidential setting. Each party or witness is asked to describe the relationship as he or she experienced it.

Marriage enjoys the favor of Church Law and it is presumed that any marriage solemnized according to the outward and visible form required by the Church is, in fact, valid.  Before a marriage takes place the parties are questioned as to whether or not they accept the Church’s teaching on marriage, whether they intend to enter marriage freely and without reservation, and whether they are aware of any impediment to the marriage taking place. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that a marriage, which is entered into validly, is indissoluble and cannot be dismantled either by the parties themselves or any external authority. Accordingly, the person challenging the validity of a marriage bears the onus of demonstrating his or her conviction beyond reasonable doubt.  


Very Reverend J. Vincent Kerr, JCD, DIOCESE OF HAMILTON
Hamilton, Ontario