WHO ARE WE? WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR?
Most people who come into contact with the tribunal do so because they, or someone they know, is seeking the annulment of a broken marriage.
The Tribunal is not a marriage counselling service. We have Marriage Care who will be happy to help if counselling is required. The purpose of the Tribunal is to make a judgement on the validity of a marriage which has broken down irretrievably.
A valid marriage between two baptised people which has been consummated cannot be dissolved by any means. If in fact one of the parties to a broken marriage was not baptised, or if the marriage had not been consummated, the Tribunal will be able to help the parties to seek the dissolution of the marriage. If it was not a valid marriage, the Tribunal will declare it null and void, and the parties would then be free to marry other people!
Is this just a Catholic divorce?
Certainly not; a divorce is a statement that a marriage has ended. The teaching of Christ himself is that a true marriage is for life and that no one can bring it to an end, even when the couple can no longer live amicably together. It is sometimes possible, however, to prove that the broken marriage was never a true marriage. There was obviously a bond between the couple, and a very real relationship, but it may be that this relationship lacked some element which would make it a true marriage. This does not mean it was only a sham, or that the couple are to blame, but it does mean that the Tribunal can declare the ‘marriage’ to be null and void – ie grant an annulment.
It’s only the rich and famous who get annulments!
No it isn’t. Every diocese has a Marriage Tribunal. In this Diocese, on average 50 judgements are made about marriage per year and in most cases the annulment was granted. None of the people involved happened to be famous or particularly wealthy. Many were positively poor. Nevertheless it does cost money to run and office, employ lay staff, pay for telephone and IT equipment etc, but this cost is borne entirely by the diocese, on the direction of Pope Francis.
We never heard of annulments in the old days. Is it getting easier?
Marriage has not changed, but our understanding of it is developing all the time. Together with the insights of modern psychology there is a growing awareness that some people are not able to make the commitment that marriage requires.
If a person cannot make that commitment, or if their appreciation of what they are taking on is only limited, there can be no true marriage. Because Tribunals have come to appreciate this much more over the last 40 years or so, there are a greater number of broken marriages than there used to be which we realise are in fact null and void.
What about the children? Will an annulment mean they become illegitimate?
No. In Canon Law children are legitimate if their parents are married at the time of their child’s birth, even if that marriage is later annulled. Obviously the decisions of the Tribunal have no effect in the law of England, and so if they arc considered legitimate in civil law before the annulment is granted, they will remain so afterwards.
People who are divorced cannot receive the sacraments. Is this true?
No. The fact that a person is divorced is not a bar to the sacraments. If a divorced person remarries during the lifetime of their partner, or lives with someone else as man and wife, they should not receive Communion. If their former partner dies however, or if they receive an annulment, they are free to marry and to continue receiving the sacraments. In itself, divorce does not stop a person receiving the sacraments.
Can a Catholic who wants to marry a divorced non-Catholic do so?
Not unless the non-Catholic has received an annulment. The Church recognises the marriages of non-Catholics as binding marriages in every sense. If the marriage of two non-Catholics breaks down neither is free to marry again in the eyes of the Church unless an annulment has been granted by the Catholic Tribunal. This is true even if the two non-Catholics had been married only in a Register Office, or in a Civil Marriage in a hotel or somewhere else.
Why should the ‘innocent party’ be penalised by not being allowed to marry again?
The Church believes that marriage is for life, come what may, because a marriage is a reflection of God’s everlasting love. The fact that a person has been deserted by their partner does not free them from that bond, and so they would need to seek an annulment before they could marry again.
Would it not be easier to forget the past and let divorced people marry again without all this fuss?
The Church must speak with the voice of Christ, and his teaching is very clear: what God has joined together, let no one separate. The Church has therefore to uphold and protect the bond of marriage. At the same time, we are often faced with the reality of a broken marriage, and from the very earliest clays the Church has tried to help such people. That is the purpose of the Tribunal: to help such people. While remaining true to the teaching of Christ, the Tribunal will make a judgement about the validity of a broken marriage. In this way the parties will be free of the bond of marriage if it can be shown that theirs was never a true marriage.
How does one go about getting an annulment?
You can either speak to your local priest and ask him to help you to present a case to the Tribunal, or you can contact the Tribunal direct, our official title is: The Shrewsbury Diocesan Tribunal, and we can be contacted at the Presbytery, Our Lady’s, Cavendish St, Birkenhead, Wirral CH41 8AQ. Tel: 0151-670 0097 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Canon John F Gordon Judicial Vicar