Very Rev.Fr.Prasad Chaminde
Diocesan marriage tribunal,
Diocese of Chilaw,
Phone: 0094 32 2222332/0094 32 2223377
Mr. Lydwin Kiriwldeniya.
What is a Church Tribunal?
The Tribunal is an agency within a diocese that handles judicial matters, specifically the application of canon law and the protection of rights. Currently most of the activity of an ecclesiastical court has to do with marriages. One of the tribunal’s primary duties is to study a marriage at the request of either of the parties to decide if a valid bond was present.
Typical situations include: (a) a divorced Catholic seeking clarification of his/her own status in the Church, (b) a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic wishing to return to the full sacramental life of the Church, (c) a divorced person of any religion who is planning to marry a Catholic, and (d) a divorced non-Catholic planning to be received into the Catholic Church through the RCIA.
What is a Declaration of Nullity?
A declaration of nullity is a decision made by a Church Tribunal, acknowledging that a couple never established the sacred bond of marriage. This “declaration” is made after one of the parties in a former marriage requests it, and only after a detailed study of the marriage has been carried out. The process examines the intention and understanding of both people at the time of their wedding to see if the necessary elements of a full and true marriage were present (i.e., permanence, fidelity, the ability for true companionship and love of the spouses, and an openness to the generation and education of children).
The declaration of nullity process seeks to determine whether or not there was anything that prevented these elements from being present in the relationship, despite the fact that both individuals entered the marriage with the best of intentions. Marriages rarely fail because of ill will or malice present from the beginning, but rather, because one or both of the spouses were unable to create the quality of relationship necessary for a valid union due to physical, psychological, or circumstantial causes. If the Church declares that a prior bond of marriage was not properly established, the parties are considered free to celebrate a new marriage in the Church. A declaration of nullity is a religious decision that does not have any civil effect on the relationship or legitimacy of any children born of the union.
Who would need a Declaration of Nullity?
Any person (Catholic, Protestant, Christian or non-Christian) who wishes to enter marriage in the Catholic Church, and who has a former spouse who is still living, needs to look at the possibility of a declaration of nullity from a Church Tribunal for all previous marriages in order to determine if they are free to marry. The Catholic Church’s doctrine of faith does not recognize civil divorce as ending the commitment entailed in marriage, believing that marriage is binding until death. While the presumption always exists that a marriage is valid, either of the spouses has the right to ask the Church to re-examine that presumption after common life has ceased, and a civil divorce has been granted. Even the fact that a couple may have been married by a Catholic priest does not necessarily guarantee that all the requirements were present for a full and valid union.
Does a declaration of Nullity establish that a former marriage never existed?
No. Obviously the couple was wed according to civil law and lived together, and possibly had children. They have a “history” from being together. It is presumed that both parties entered the marriage with good intentions. No one can deny that a relationship existed in some fashion, at least for a time, with its own joys and sorrows, its own hopes and disappointments. Good and bad memories will always remain. In almost all cases, a civilly recognized union was at least certainly present.
How does Marriage as a Sacrament differ from marriage as a legal contract?
The validity of a marriage contract, in civil terms, is based on the observance of provincial law. A decree of civil divorce ends the civil recognition of the union. In short, civil authorities have come to understand that marriage can be cancelled. A divorce declares that the contract has been terminated as of a certain date. The Church, on the other hand, regards marriage as a sacred covenant of life and love. The fidelity and permanence of marriage is a symbol of the fidelity and permanence of God’s love for all people. The freely given consent of a man and a woman establishes a marriage covenant. This consent is an act of the whole human person and it involves psychological, physical, and spiritual dynamics. A wedding always has the potential to establish a true marriage covenant, but unfortunately not all do.
Null and Void, Validity and Invalidity, What does it all mean?
A declaration of nullity affirms the fact that the sacred bond of marriage was not validly established at the wedding, according to Church teaching and Church law. In other words, the bond of marriage that was presumed to exist does not, and is considered to be null. A civil union existed, but the sacred bond of marriage was not validly established. In order for a marriage to be properly established, there must be certain requirements present in the individual who consents to marriage at the time of the wedding. If any of these requirements are absent or seriously distorted, the tribunal judges can declare that the act of consenting to marriage was made in an invalid way, therein indicating that the marriage bond has no effect and is null. Church law determines what these requirements are. In summary, a declaration of nullity does not break the marriage bond. A declaration of nullity declares that the marriage bond was never validly established at the time of consent according to Church teaching and Church law.
What is the status of a divorced Catholic in the Church?
Contrary to popular myth, the Church has never indicated that divorce alone was sufficient grounds for excommunication. Catholics who are divorced, but who have not entered into another civil marriage are encouraged to practice their faith fully, including participating in the sacraments. Merely being separated or divorced does not change one’s status in the Church. Divorced Catholics are full members of the Church with all of the same rights as any other member.
Catholics who have divorced and who have remarried, without a declaration of nullity, are not free to receive the sacraments, but are still encouraged to practice the other aspects of their faith, pending a decision by a tribunal regarding their former marriage.
Does a Declaration of Nullity affect the legitimacy of children?
Church law clearly states that children born within a marriage that was entered into “in good faith? are not to be considered illegitimate. “In good faith? means that at the time of the wedding one or both people truly believed that they were establishing a marriage. This holds true even if, at a later date, the marriage is declared invalid according to Church law. Legitimacy flows from the civil law. If a Church Tribunal declares that a marriage lacked something essential that prevented it from being a union binding for life according to Church law, it is still a valid civil marriage, just not a valid canonical one. For the Church, children remain legitimate.
How does the Catholic Church regard the marriages of non-Catholics?
The Church considers the marriage bond between non-Catholics to be as equally binding as those of Catholics. Like marriages in the Catholic Church, whenever there as been a public exchange of consent, the validity of these marriages is presumed until the contrary is proven. Therefore, the marriage of two non-baptized people; the marriage of two baptized non- Catholics; or the marriage of a baptized non-Catholic and a non-baptized person, are all presumed to be valid, whether they are celebrated before a civil official or a non-Catholic minister.
What affects the validity of marriage consent?
Marriage is for people who are capable of making an adult commitment and of assuming the essential rights and obligations of marriage and family life. A marriage can be declared invalid for any one of several reasons related to the ability of one or both of the partners to both understand and agree to the Catholic understanding of marriage before the wedding ceremony.