Diocese of Worcester
Monsignor F. Stephen Pedone, JCL, Judicial Vicar
508-791-7171 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"A Time for Healing"
According to Church teaching, a valid marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. It is permanently binding and cannot be dissolved. This is the law of God according to the evidence found in the Old Testament, the New Testament and almost two-thousand years of Christian tradition. Although not every marriage is a Sacrament, each and every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, non-believer, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.
Divorce is unique among life's experiences. There is no precedent that can prepare an individual for it. Divorce is a process, not an event. Legal divorce can be pinpointed to a moment in time, to the signing of a court decision, but not so the experience of divorce. The experience of divorce is the result of a series of incidents that eventually erode a relationship between a husband and a wife. The ending of any marriage that has endured long enough for the two partners to invest portions of their lives, money, emotions and dreams is a critical experience.
The Catholic Church is aware of the stress involved with divorce. The Church addresses this issue through its ministry of the Tribunal, bearing in mind the needs of the divorced individuals, while at the same time supporting the permanence of the sacramental union.
The Office of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Worcester aims to help the divorced person intending another marriage, and the divorced Catholic seeking a clarification of his or her standing in the Church. Information, assistance, and recommendations are available from the personnel of the Tribunal, who are present to help you.
The effect of an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity (Annulment) is to declare that the parties are not bound to a specific marital relationship, stating that the marriage in question was not a binding, valid, sacramental union. It is important to understand the meaning of this Declaration of Nullity. It does not deny that a real marital relationship existed, nor does it imply that the marital relationship was entered with ill will or moral fault. Rather, this Declaration of Nullity is a statement by the Catholic Church that the marital relationship fell short of at least one of the elements seen as essential for a true, valid, and binding sacramental marriage.
1. Who may apply for an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity?
Everyone has the right to apply for an investigation of his or her former marriage. This application must be made to a Tribunal which has proper jurisdiction, i.e., the Tribunal in the Diocese where the marriage took place or in the Diocese where the former spouse (the Respondent) currently resides. In other cases, the Tribunal of the Worcester Diocese must request the permission of the Diocese in which the Respondent currently resides. In such a case, the Respondent must be consulted.
2. Does an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity affect the legitimacy of children?
Church law specifically states that children born of a marriage that has been declared null are considered legitimate.
3. Does an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity have any effect under civil law?
In the United States, Church Declarations of Nullity have no civil effects regarding child custody, alimony, property rights, etc. Therefore, some civil action, either for a civil divorce or a civil annulment, must have been taken before a person petitions the Tribunal for an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity. If there has been no civil action and there is the slightest hope of reconciliation, the Tribunal strongly urges that the parties try to reconcile their differences if this is possible.
4. How does a person initiate a petition for a Declaration of Nullity?
A Petitioner for an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity should contact his or her parish priest or deacon or any other priest, deacon or religious with whom he or she is familiar and feels comfortable. A preliminary questionnaire must be completed by the Petitioner. These questionnaires may be obtained from the parish or directly from the Tribunal. A Petitioner may seek assistance from the priest or deacon first contacted. Upon completion of the form the Petitioner should review the form with the assisting priest or deacon. This form must then be mailed to the Tribunal by the Petitioner or by the priest or deacon assisting in the process.
If the Petitioner prefers, he or she may contact the Tribunal directly and work with the Tribunal by calling the Tribunal Office at 508-791-7171 for an appointment. At the Tribunal office, the Petitioner will be interviewed by a member of the Tribunal staff who will offer whatever assistance is required in the completion of the questionnaire.
In addition to the Petitioner's testimony, the Tribunal attempts to collect any other data that might be helpful in preparing a case, such as statements from clinicians, hospitals, institutions, law enforcement agencies, etc. In order to obtain this information legitimately, the Petitioner is asked to sign the proper release forms.
5. Why are witnesses needed?
Church law requires that the testimony of the Petitioner be corroborated by witnesses. The witnesses usually will be asked about the circumstances before and/or during the marriage. They do not need to be experts, simply people who knew the partners and the problems of the marriage. Anyone, including family, relatives and friends, who knew the Petitioner and/or the former spouse and the marital problems can act as a witness. However, we ask that children born of the marriage not be asked to be witnesses. Ordinarily, at least four witnesses must be provided.
The Tribunal will contact the witnesses by mail and send them questionnaires. The Petitioner, however, is asked to contact these witnesses first and seek their cooperation.
6. Will the former spouse be contacted?
The Tribunal must attempt to inform the former spouse that the investigation has been initiated, and offer him or her an opportunity to participate. Lacking a response from the other party, and after a designated period of time, the Tribunal may bring the case to the judicial level for formal acceptance.
If the Respondent agrees to cooperate with the Tribunal, he or she will be asked to fulfill the same steps that the Petitioner is asked to fulfill.
7. What if the address of the former spouse is unknown?
Every reasonable effort must be made to contact the Respondent. It is his or her right to know of these proceedings and to participate. If, after a genuine effort, the current whereabouts of the Respondent cannot be determined, the Tribunal may appoint a Procurator/Advocate to represent the Respondent and to protect his/her rights. In such a situation, the case may proceed and be brought to a conclusion.
8. Who decides if a formal Declaration of Nullity may be granted?
Most cases are decided by one Judge. Sometimes three Judges assigned to a case. When the case is formally accepted, the Tribunal assigns it a Protocol Number, which is to be used in all future correspondence.
9. With whom does the Judge consult in reaching his decision?
When an adequate amount of testimony has been presented, the Judge may consult a Tribunal psychologist for his or her professional opinion. Furthermore, the Judge consults the Defender of the Bond for his comments. The Defender of the Bond is charged with the task of upholding the validity of marriage.
As the process is nearing completion, a Hearing is scheduled with the Petitioner and the Judge(s) assigned to the case. Then the Judge(s) studies the case and writes his (their) decision in favor of or against the binding nature (validity) of the marriage in question. The revised Code of Canon Law requires that all affirmative decisions must be appealed to another designated Tribunal for ratification, which, in our case, is the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston. It also serves as the Worcester Tribunal’s court of appeal. If the Respondent has lodged a valid appeal, the entire case may be brought into a new trial, before our appeal court. Normally, the ratification process takes an additional four months.
10. Are there any requirements following an affirmative decision before a marriage may be celebrated in the Catholic Church?
In informing both parties of an affirmative decision, the Tribunal may find it necessary to make a recommendation for individual counseling for one or both of the parties before any remarriage.
At times such counseling is intended to insure the parties are ready to undertake the obligations of a new union and are attending to any provisions of the decree of civil divorce particularly as it pertains to matters of child support and custody, alimony, and settlement of property.
11. When can a date be set to marry in the Catholic Church?
No date can be set for a subsequent wedding or convalidation in the church until notification of that person's freedom to marry from the Worcester Tribunal is received and all requirements of that decision have been fulfilled.
12. Is there a fee?
The Worcester Tribunal is subsidized by the faithful of the Diocese, most of whom never require its services. To help defray the subsidy, the person who submits a petition is assessed a fee of $450, which represents one-third (1/3) of the actual cost to process a case. The Diocese assumes the other two-thirds (2/3) of the entire cost. A $50 filing fee is asked for when the Petitioner returns the Petition Signature Form at the start of the process. $250 is required halfway through the process and the final $150 is due on the day of the hearing. If necessary individual payment plans may be established. Under no circumstances will a person's petition be rejected because that person is legitimately unable to meet the expenses incurred by the Tribunal.
13. How long does the procedure take?
Each case is dealt with individually. Due to the great number of cases and other factors, such as the requirements of the Church's procedural laws, time cannot be specified. IT IS CURRENTLY ESTIMATED THAT THE PROCESING OF A GIVEN CASE WILL TAKE AT LEAST ONE TO ONE AND A HALF YEARS FROM THE DATE IT IS SUBMITTED TO THE TRIBUNAL. While the Tribunal will process each and every case as efficiently as possible, this time estimate is not a guarantee.