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Where can I find out information about the annulment process?
Information about the annulment process is available in several books that are available in catholic bookstores. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has written a very good one, Marriage, Divorce and Nullity. Alternatively, you could contact your parish priest or else the Tribunal Office in your diocese.

There are two different processes for the declaration of nullity of a marriage.

The simpler process is used when a marriage is invalid because the marriage took place contrary to the laws of the church. For example, a Catholic may have married in a civil ceremony or in another church without a dispensation from the diocesan bishop. A Catholic may have married a non-Christian without a dispensation. In both of these cases, the marriage would be considered invalid.

The second process is more detailed and lengthy. It is used when at the time of the marriage there were issues that affected the consent of either or both of the spouses. If the spouses did not consent to marriage, as the church understands it, then it is possible that the marriage could be judged to be invalid.

On what basis can the Church judge that a husband or wife did not consent to a marriage?
There are a number of reasons why the church judges that a marriage is invalid, based on the lack of consent.

We could think about consent in any situation. True consent involves acting freely - without force or fear. It involves knowing to what one is consenting. In the case of marriage, this involves consenting to give oneself to the other person, and giving consent to the church's understanding of marriage. This means consenting to fidelity to one person for ever. and being open to having children.

To make a promise means that one must have the capacity to fulfil the promise.

A couple of examples may be helpful.

If a person marries knowing that if the marriage does not work out, then they will obtain a divorce, it would seem that the person is not committing forever.

If one spouse is unfaithful during the courtship and again shortly after the wedding, there is a strong possibility that the person did not have the capacity to commit to fidelity.

What happens in a formal annulment process?
The annulment process aims to examine a marriage to determine whether or not - at the time of the marriage - the marriage was valid. Therefore, the process involves an initial interview with the spouse requesting the annulment, the result of which will be the tribunal interviewer leading the person to formulate a petition whereby he requests that the tribunal examine his marriage for validity, based on particular reasons.

During this interview, the person (the petitioner) will be asked to nominate several people who would be willing to be interviewed concerning the marriage. These people should be people who knew the couple at the time of their marriage, preferably before and after the marriage.

The other spouse (the respondent) will be asked to participate in the process. So, if possible, the petitioner should provide contact details. The respondent also will be asked to provide the names of several people who will acts as witnesses to their marriage. Usually three witnesses for each of the former spouses is sufficient.

They may be interviewed again. A written record of all the interviews is kept.

When all the documentation, including the statements of the witnesses, is complete, the documents will be examined by personnel of the Tribunal - people appointed by the Bishop to carry out specific roles. After a first decision is made, a second examination of the documentation takes place - by different people. If the second decision agrees with the first decision, then that is the end of the process.

Not all marriages that are examined in the tribunal are declared null.

Can a divorced person be an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist?
There are two separate issues here. The first situation is that people may divorce. The second situation is that some divorced people may remarry.

The church understands that some marriages end in divorce. The church has a process, usually called an annulment process for people who have divorced and wish to remarry. The annulment process is not like a divorce. It is a process whereby the Church looks at the situation of the first marriage and after careful examination and procedures in keeping with church law, recognizing that the marriage was never a valid marriage, declares it null. The church does not make a valid marriage null, it merely passes judgement on whether or not at the time of the marriage, the couple actually gave their consent to marriage and did so in accordance with the laws of the church.

If a marriage is declared null, then the people are free to remarry.

So either

  1. a person has been divorced and chooses not to remarry or
  2. a person, whose first marriage is declared null, chooses to remarry,
may both hold a position in the church.

On the other hand, a person who is divorced and remarries without the first marriage being declared null, is not free to receive the Eucharist and so cannot be a Eucharistic minister.

At the same time, the church does have concern for such a person, (that is, divorced and remarried without an annulment). The person should be encouraged to attend Mass, to participate in Church events, so that he or she is part of the community of the parish.

A person in this situation should be encouraged to speak to their parish priest. He might be able to suggest that he or she make an appointment with the tribunal and hopefully, their situation can be rectified.

Alternatively, the person should be encouraged to contact their diocesan tribunal office.

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This material was prepared by Elizabeth Delaney sgs, Information Officer, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference with thanks to Catholic Ireland for the use of their content. The material may be reproduced for non-commercial use provided this notice is included. Copyright © 2005.


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