Diocesan Tribunal

Due to COVID-19-related mail delays and restrictions, please be aware that cases involving parties who live outside of the country may take significantly longer to process than usual. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

“[T]he invitation we give to celebrate Peace resounds as an invitation to practice Justice: "Justice will bring about Peace" (Cf: Is 32:17). We repeat this today in a more incisive and dynamic formula: ‘If you want Peace, work for Justice.’"
– Pope St. Paul VI, V World Day of Peace, 1972

“To conceive of human relations of justice, among other things, without rules, without judicial organs, without any scientific juridical discussion, is pure utopia. This is the case also in the Church, which historically has always met and will undoubtedly in the future continue to meet these requirements deriving from its human dimension in history.”
– Carlos Errázuriz, Justice in the Church, page 255

Greetings from the Toledo Diocesan Tribunal!

With the bishop of our diocese, we work as ministers of justice on behalf of the People of God, especially serving the Christian faithful in the Diocese of Toledo.  Like any human group that aims to flourish, the Church must ensure that fair and just relationships exist between her members.  To this end, the Toledo Diocesan Tribunal applies the law of the Church, called Canon Law, at the request of those who approach us in order to protect their rights, to declare penalties, and to establish juridic facts.

This final purpose brings most people to the tribunal: to establish whether their marriage was invalid and to determine their free status to marry in the Catholic Church.  This investigation of a marriage is commonly called the Annulment Process.  The process is not adversarial or meant to point blame at either spouse, but merely to discover if a valid marriage could not be formed based upon a specific reason called a Ground of Nullity.  We hope that your journey with us will be a time of healing and restoration, bringing resolution to what may have been a difficult stage in your life. 

Like any process that works for justice, the terms used in canon law are technical, although based on common sense.  For this reason, we recommend that you consult your local parish priest or deacon or that you contact one of our trained case sponsors, found on the Case Sponsors tab of this webpage.  Of course, you are welcome to learn more about the marriage nullity process by reading from the Guidance Documents tab and consulting the Forms that we use. 

Please contact us to answer your questions or to help you begin this process by calling 419-244-6711 and asking for the tribunal.  We pray for justice, peace, and healing in your life.

Rev. Eric J. Culler, J.C.L.

Judicial Vicar

Rev. Eric Culler, JCL
Judicial Vicar

Mrs. Kelly Littleton, JCL
Defender of the Bond

Ms. Dina Eckhardt
Manager of the Tribunal Office (DC, art. 61)

Msgr. Christopher Vasko, JCD


419-244-6711 or tribunal@toledodiocese.org

Case Status:

Procedural Law:

Chaldean Catholics: 248-351-0440 or annulments@chaldeanchurch.org

We praise you, God of our ancestors, we praise your name for ever and ever. Let all your created order praise you forever.  You made Adam, and Eve his partner and support; and those two were parents of the human race.  This was your word:  It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a helpmate like him. I now take this my beloved to be my partner, not out of self-interest but in true marriage. Grant that we may find mercy and grow old together. –Tobit 8:5b-7

Te alabamos, Dios a nuestros antepasados, alebamos tu nombre para siempre jamás.  Que todos los creados para su alabanza siempre.  Que ha hecho Adán y Eva y el apoyo de su pareja, y los dos fueron los padres de la toda la raza humana.  Este fue su palabra:  no es bueno para el hombre esté solo, hagamos de él un socio como el.  Ahora mi querido aprovechar esta mi pareja, no por interés propio, pero en verdad el matrimonio.  Haz que podamos encontrar la misericordia y envejecer juntos. –Tobit 8:5b-7

The Toledo Diocesan Tribunal, together with the whole Church, believes in the sacramental dignity of that which Tobiah and Sarah called ‘true marriage’ - a marriage crafted in the will and love of God, a marriage that endures through good times and bad, through troubled times and graced times, which creates a fully functioning society in which husband and wife are coequal in dignity, responsibility and love, a society which becomes “sign and symbol of God’s love for his people.”  In the service of justice and truth, the Tribunal assists those who believe that their marital consent did not rise to that dignity, and who therefore seek to ease the conscience regarding a past decision which directly led to a failed marital bond, or to obtain a declaration of freedom to marry according to the Law of Christ and of his Church.

To make available the services of truth and justice, as part of the general services funded in part by the ACA (Annual Catholic Appeal), the Diocese maintains a highly trained canonical staff versed in both the law and its application in a very human world.  Please feel free to contact your local parish or any of our trained Case Sponsors to discuss beginning a process or to obtain further information.

Como la hace la Iglesia, este Tribunal afrima la dignidad sacramental de lo que Tobías y Sara denominado ‘verdadero matrimonio’ - un matrimonio construido en la voluntad y amor de Dios, un matrimonio que perdura en el tiemo y en el mal, con problemas en el día y adornado días, que crea entre el marido y la esposa de una sociedad en la que ambos son co-iguales en dignidad, responsibilidad y amor.  En el servicio a la justicia y la verdad, el Tribunal presta asistencia a aquellos creen que su consentimiento matrimonial no lugar a que la dignidad y que, por tanto, solicitar una declaración de la libertad de casarse con arreglo a ley Cristo y su Iglesia.

Para disposición los servicios de la verdad y la justicia, la Diócesis de Toledo mantiene un personal altamente capacitado canónica versado tanto en la ley y su aplicación en un mundo humano.  Para nuestra población de habla hispana, por favor, siéntase libre de correo electronico el Vicario Judicial (eculler@toledodiocese.org) o de asistencia para comenzar de proceso.


Additional Tribunal Personnel

Rev. Msgr. Marvin G. Borger, JCL
Sr. Rose Marie Timmer, RSM, JCL

Defenders of the Bond
Dr. John Amos, JCD
Ms. Jenna Cooper, JCL
Sr. Christine Rody, JCL

Case Sponsor for Respondents
Ms. Patricia A. Eingle

Court Experts
Dr. Mark Babula, PsyD
Ms. Katherine Didion, LPCC-S
Mrs. Mary Ann Jepsen, MACPC, LPCC
Dr. Rosalyn E. Liston, PhD, RN
Sr. Maria Lin Pacold, RSM, MD

Auditor, Translator, and Office Manager for Chaldean Catholics
Mrs. Lubna Seba
Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle


Just as in the civil forum, a Church Tribunal is only permitted by the law to conduct business appropriate to that particular tribunal. As regards marriage, there are some basic ‘rules’ by which jurisdiction to consider a petition is obtained. These can be found in canon 1672 (revised by Pope Francis in Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, 2015).

The Tribunal of the diocese where the original marriage occurred always has the competence to take up a petition regarding that act of consent. Regardless of whether the marriage took place in the Catholic Church, another faith community, a courthouse, or a back yard, the location of the wedding determines which Tribunal has the first obligation to consider the matter.

Because people move from place to place for any number of reasons, the second Tribunal with jurisdiction is where the Petitioner or Respondent (the non-petitioning party) maintains his or her ordinary residence (called a domicile or quasi-domicile by the Church). It is appropriate that the closest Tribunal that can serve the needs one or both of the parties would have a natural obligation to render assistance.

Finally, the third Tribunal which has jurisdiction is that where the greatest number of proofs can be gathered. Perhaps a couple dated, courted, and prepared for marriage on a college campus where most of their family and witnesses still reside. Then, the couple, for sentimental reasons only, returned to a distant diocese to marry where Grandma or Grandpa married. The couple now lives in a third location. In such a case, the place where the couple met, dated, and agreed to marry could be competent to receive a petition.

Please note: when determining jurisdiction, the law considers where a person lives, not what parish he or she attends regularly or is registered with. Please see the map of all Ohio counties below to determine which diocese you live in.


Which Process Should I Use?

Absence of Form Application – used for Absence of Form only

Application Packet – used for Ordinary Process, Documentary Process, Abbreviated Process, and Pauline Privilege

Formal Petitions to be Sent with Application Packet:*
Ordinary Process Libellus
Documentary Process Libellus
Abbreviated Process Libellus
Please note that there is no libellus for the Pauline Privilege; only the application packet and required documents are necessary

*Hand-Written Libellus Options

Although we would prefer to receive a typed libellus, we understand that some would prefer to hand-write this document. Please print neatly; illegible submissions will cause delays since they will be returned to you for clarification.

Hand-Written Ordinary Process Libellus
Hand-Written Documentary Process Libellus
Hand-Written Abbreviated Process Libellus

¡Gracias por venir aquí para aprender más sobre el proceso de nulidad matrimonial! Desafortunadamente, el Tribunal no cuenta actualmente con el personal para procesar los casos completamente en español, por lo que todas las peticiones deben presentarse en inglés. Sin embargo, hemos tenido varios de nuestros documentos de orientación traducidos al español para su referencia. No dude en revisarlos para obtener más información sobre los diferentes procesos. Para comenzar una petición, lo invitamos a comunicarse con uno de los Procuradores bilingües de nuestra diócesis que se enumeran a continuación. Tenga la seguridad de nuestras oraciones por usted y su familia durante este proceso.



Que proceso debo utilizar?

Resumen del proceso ordinario de nulidad matrimonial

Resumen del proceso documental de nullidad de matrimonio

Resumen del proceso mas breve ante el Obispo

Resumen de la peticion por el Privilegio Paulino

Explicaciones de los fundamentos para nulidad

Instrucciones para peticionarios – procesos judiciales

Muestra de libellus



Fr. Michael Diemer - mdiemer@toledodiocese.org | 419-935-4744

St. Paul Parish in Norwalk – Francisco Carillo; Guadalupe Enriquez | 419-668-6044

St. Michael Parish in Findlay – Dcn. Armando Gonzalez; Ida Gonzalez | 419-422-2646

Case Sponsors of the Toledo Diocesan Tribunal are well-trained individuals from all across the diocese who are prepared to work with a petitioner to develop and then advance a petition, as well as to assist with pastoral care and case status updates. Each has been trained by a Tribunal canonist. Please feel free to call upon any of these Case Sponsors to make inquiries, begin a petition, or track the progress of a case in which you are involved.

The Ministry of Justice provided by the Tribunal is funded in part by offerings made to the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). There is no cost for the assistance of a Case Sponsor. If, however, you are interested in hiring a canon lawyer to advise and represent you, please contact the Tribunal office for more information.

Below, please find a list of trained Case Sponsors who have agreed to make their names available on our webpage. They are available to assist anyone, regardless of parish. Please note, however, that all priests, deacons, and pastoral leaders of all parishes are deputed as Case Sponsors to serve the people of the parish.



Allen County
Deborah Bartlett-Karbowiak – St. Gerard, Lima - 419-516-4415

Raymond Karbowiak – St. Gerard, Lima – 419-230-2927
Roseanne Roop – St. John/St. Rose, Lima - 419.222.5521

Crawford County
Sherry Stockmaster – St. Joseph, Plymouth – 419.564.9863

Defiance County
Dcn. Rodney Conkle – St. Michael, Hicksville and St. Mary, Edgerton - 419-542-6473
Dee Pepple – St. Michael, Hicksville - 419-542-8888
Greg Pepple – St. Michael, Hicksville - 419-542-8888
Dean Smalley – St. Michael, Hicksville - 419-487-2651
Susie Smalley – St. Michael, Hicksville - 419-487-2652
Toby Stark – St. Mary, Edgerton - 419-633-2836
Connie Moffitt – St. John the Evangelist, Defiance – 419-782-7121

Erie County
Terry “Chip” Bahn – St. Peter, Huron – 419-433-5725
Dcn. Bill Burch - St. Mary Parish, Sandusky - 419-625-7500 ext. 1008
Dcn. Mike Leahy – Mother of Sorrows and St. Michael’s Island Parishes - 419-285-2741
Linda Salmons – St. Anthony, Milan and St. Mary, Norwalk – 419-688-2005
Susan Kershaw – St. Mary, Wakeman – 440-839-2023
James Tokarsky – Immaculate Conception, Bellevue – 419-668-6044

Fulton County
Barbara Bonfert – St. Caspar, Wauseon - 419-337-23
Sr. Regina Fisher, SND – Lial Renewal Center - 419-346-8151

Hancock County
Lorrie Seiple – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-424-9919
Kristin Welly – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-595-2567
Marvin Welly – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-595-2567
Bonnie Omlor – St. Wendelin, Fostoria - 419-435-0553

Henry County
None at this time – please contact your local pastor, priest, or deacon

Huron County
Linda Salmons – St. Anthony, Milan and St. Mary, Norwalk – 419-688-2005
Susan Kershaw – St. Mary, Wakeman – 440-839-2023
Dcn. John Murray – St. Mary, Norwalk – 419-668-2005
James Tokarsky – Immaculate Conception, Bellevue – 419-668-6044
Sherry Stockmaster – St. Joseph, Plymouth – 419.564.9863

Lucas County
Jeffrey Gralak – Historic St. Patrick, Toledo – 419.346.4539
Dcn. Robert Beisser – Christ the King, Toledo – 419.475.4348
Margaret McCready – Gesu, Toledo - 419-531-1421
Theresa Paredes – St. Catherine, Toledo - 419-478-9558
Elizabeth Smotherman – Blessed Sacrament, Toledo - 419-345-7616
Brenda Degener – Epiphany of the Lord, Toledo - 419-693-6247
Joanne Denyer – St. Joseph Parish, Sylvania - 419-885-5791
Sr. Regina Fisher, SND – Lial Renewal Center - 419-346-8151
Dcn. Anthony J. Pistilli – St. Joseph, Sylvania – 419.283.0130

Ottawa County
Robert Colson – St. Joseph, Marblehead - 419-618-9036
Anne Cook – St. Joseph, Marblehead - 419-798-4177
Dcn. Maury Hall – Immaculate Conception, Port Clinton – 419.734.4004
Dcn. Mike Leahy – Mother of Sorrows and St. Michael’s Island Parishes - 419-285-2741

Paulding County
Connie Moffitt – St. John the Evangelist, Defiance – 419-782-7121

Putnam County
None at this time – please contact your local pastor, priest, or deacon

Richland County
Judith Hess-Pompeii – St. Mary, Mansfield – 419-566-7335
Dcn. Allan Kopp – St. Mary, Mansfield – 419.589.5464
Michael Schopieray – St. Peter, Mansfield - 419-524-0979
Sherry Stockmaster – St. Joseph, Plymouth – 419.564.9863

Sandusky County
James Tokarsky – Immaculate Conception, Bellevue – 419-668-6044

Seneca County
Lorrie Seiple – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-424-9919
Kristin Welly – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-595-2567
Marvin Welly – All Saints, New Riegel - 419-595-2567
Bonnie Omlor – St. Wendelin, Fostoria - 419-435-0553
James Tokarsky – Immaculate Conception, Bellevue – 419-668-6044

Van Wert County
None at this time – please contact your local pastor, priest, or deacon

Williams County
Dcn. Rodney Conkle – St. Michael, Hicksville and St. Mary, Edgerton - 419-542-6473
Toby Stark – St. Mary, Edgerton - 419-633-2836

Wood County
Bonnie Omlor – St. Wendelin, Fostoria - 419-435-0553
Dcn. Philip Avina - St. Aloysius Parish, Bowling Green - 419.352.7555
Sr. Anne Mary Moylet, SND – St. John XXIII, Perrysburg - 419-874-6502
Sr. Joy Barker, OSF/S – Maumee, Ohio area – 419.376.8047

Wyandot County
Dcn. Kevin Wintersteller – Transfiguration of the Lord Parish, Upper Sandusky – 419-294-1268


If a Christian has an unbaptized wife, and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her; and a woman who has an unbaptized husband willing to live with her must not divorce her husband. For the unbaptized husband now belongs to God through his Christian wife, and the unbaptized wife through her husband. If on the other hand, the unbaptized partner wishes for a separation, let him have it. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is under no compulsion.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14a, 15-16

The Pauline Privilege is the dissolution of a presumed valid natural but non-sacramental bond in favor of a sacramental marriage, or to preserve the faith of the Catholic party in a non-sacramental marriage. Its use dates to the Apostolic Era and requires a formal statement by one in authority that the requirements have all been met. The following criteria must be met for the use of this privilege:

  1. There was a valid marriage between two unbaptized persons;

  2. One and only one of the spouses is subsequently baptized or desires to be baptized;

  3. The unbaptized spouse refuses to cohabit peacefully and there is no possibility of restoring married life;

  4. The Petitioner now wishes to marry someone else in order to practice the faith;

  5. Neither the Petitioner nor the Intended Spouse was the prevailing cause of the breakup of conjugal life;

  6. No scandal would arise from the dissolution of the marriage;

  7. If the Petitioner intends to marry a non-Catholic, the Catholic party declares that he/she is ready to remove any danger of departure from the faith and the non-Catholic party promises to allow the Petitioner to profess his/her faith and to baptize and raise the children as Catholics. 

The separation of the spouses or even the civil decree terminating the civil requirements of marriage does not dissolve the natural bond; rather valid consent to a new marriage in the Catholic Church accomplishes the dissolution. 

Conversion to Catholicism is not required; rather conversion to Christianity suffices for the use of the privilege. In order to determine the potential for applying for the privilege, any of the following must apply:

  1. A convert to Catholicism, who was formerly non-baptized and married to a non-baptized person, seeks to marry a Catholic;

  2. A convert to another Christian community, who was formerly non-baptized and married to a non-baptized person, seeks to marry a Catholic;

  3. A convert to Catholicism, who was formerly non-baptized and married to a non-baptized person, seeks to marry a baptized non-Catholic or non-baptized person. In this case, the dissolution is granted in virtue of c. 1147, which is concerned with mixed marriages. Permission, if it is a mixed marriage, and a dispensation for the impediment, if it is a disparity of cult marriage (marriage to a non-baptized person) is required. In either case, all of the requirements for a mixed marriage enumerated in cc. 1124-1129 must be met.

The following is a brief outline of the stages involved in a Pauline Privilege case:

  1. Submission of the completed APPLICATION PACKET from the Forms tab along with any required documentation to the Tribunal;

  2. Commission of officers: Instructor, Defender of the Bond, Notary;

  3. Interpellation (questioning) of the unbaptized party;

  4. Instruction: deposition of the Petitioner and his/her intended spouse;

  5. Instruction: questioning of witnesses;

  6. Observations of the Defender of the Bond;

  7. Rescript of the local Ordinary authorizing the use of the Pauline Privilege;

  8. Dissolution of the first marriage upon celebration of the new marriage.


Please see the OVERVIEW OF PETITION FOR PAULINE PRIVILEGE document on the Guidance Documents tab for more detailed information on the stages of the process 

“It should be kept in mind, as with all things in the Church, that her processes spring from and are dependent upon our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ” –Keynote – MCLS convention, 2009

1. Why does the Church go through this process?

If your brother offends you, go to him and take up the matter between yourselves and if he listens to you, you have won your brother over. If he will not listen, take one or two others with you, so that all the facts may be duly established on the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Mt 18, 15-17

If one of your number has a dispute with another, has he the daring to take it to pagan law courts instead of to the community of God’s people? It is God’s people who are to judge the world; surely you know that! If therefore you have disputes, how can you entrust jurisdiction to outsiders, men who count for nothing in our community? Can it be that there is no single wise man among you able to give a decision in a fellow Christian’s cause? I Cor 6: 1-2, 4-6

At least since the time of St. Paul, the Church has trained up men and women of wisdom to assist in settling ecclesiastical disputes, among them the relative freedom of particular persons to marry according to the rules and regulations of the sacraments of the Church.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing around the year 110 AD, already speaks of the divine nature of marriage and suggests that its proper celebration ought to be governed by the Church, and over the centuries since he shared his initial reflections, a rich theology of marriage as one of the seven sacraments has developed. That theology leads the Church to believe that marriage is ‘sign and symbol of God’s ever faithful love for his people’. As one of the sacraments, and to assure that sacramental graces redound to their celebrants, as well as to assure the continuing common good of the community of believers, where there is a dispute over the proper celebration of the sacrament of marriage, the Church maintains a system of courts whose work is to examine, as Matthew reminds us, the testimony of one or two witnesses so that a disposition can be made.  The process is ancient and seeks to bring to life the words of scripture and the words of those who regularly proclaim that “I believe. . .

2. Isn’t a Catholic annulment really just another way of saying a couple got a divorce?

To the married I give this ruling, which is not mine, but the Lord’s: a wife must not separate herself from her husband […] and a husband must not divorce his wife.” I Cor. 7, 10-11

Even before Paul penned those words, Jesus himself reminds us that from the beginning of time God intended marriage as a permanent, equal partnership of man and woman, and that such a bond cannot be set aside by anyone: not the couple, not the civil government, not even the Church. A divorce or dissolution of marriage obtained from a civil court has absolutely no effect on the sacred nature of a marriage first reported in the Book of Genesis, regardless of where that sacred rite may have been celebrated. The Church understands marriage to be part and parcel of being a truly human person, and that therefore every man and every woman has a natural right to marry according to the rules of nature.  The Church also exists in the framework of civil society, so often and in some ways defers to the right of the State to define the purely civil requirements for and effects of natural marriage.

However, the Church also believes that Jesus the Christ wanted all marriages to share in his manifold blessings so that the consent of any man and woman in marriage binds them to the natural ends of marriage, among which are the three famous architectonic goods, or bonae, of marriage (defined at the end of the fourth century of the common era): permanence, fidelity and an openness to sharing in the natural and mutual acts by which future generations of humanity are brought into being. Once such a relationship has been validly crafted, no power on earth, not even the civil state or the unhappy couple which failed to advance the goodness of marriage and family, can entirely proclaim that sacred marriage to have ended. What a Tribunal process examines is the moment of consent to determine whether the necessary rules were followed, individually by each party to an act of consent and mutually by the couple, which would forever bind them to marriage. What is not brought into being according to the rules can be declared to be so, and the result is a declaration of freedom to go out and try to follow the rules.

3. Why does a non-Catholic whose church does not believe in this process have to go through it?

‘We are free to do anything,’ you say. Yes, but is everything good for us?  ‘We are free to do anything,’ but does everything help the building of the community? Each of you must regard, not his own interests, but the others’. I Cor. 10, 23-24

Paul reminds us that each human person is possessed of genuine freedom of action. Yet he can easily see some limits to that freedom raised up by our faith in and love for Jesus the risen Lord and the community of believers who live in his presence. Essentially, no non-Catholic need ever come to the Church seeking a declaration of freedom to marry as the positive laws of the Church generally apply only to members of the Church. However, among the rules for Catholics is one which states quite clearly that no Catholic may ever marry a married person. Since civil and public documents can be produced which prove a civil marriage, or even a religious marriage on the part of the non-Catholic, these make the Catholic incapable of marrying someone he or she may love completely and sincerely. In order to declare the Catholic party free to marry the non-Catholic, the former or first act of consent of the non-Catholic must be examined to determine whether it was celebrated validly. In a more romantic sense, the non-Catholic would submit a petition for a tribunal process because he or she loves the Catholic party enough to show respect for both the beloved and the beloved’s own faith.

4. This whole thing looks like the Church is snooping into a lot of personal stuff.  Why?

A direct quote from the gospel of Luke, 15, 11-32, would be far too long here.  But the Parable of the Lost Son certainly reveals a lot of personal information, information which sets the stage for the tragic renunciation of family made by both the sons, based on personal want as opposed to the needs of a relational community.

Marriage requires people to undertake what might be called the Big C’s:  Collaboration, Cooperation, Communication, and Compromise. The way people learn that Big Four arises from family modeling, adolescent socialization and then, in a more specified way, from dating and courting where both self-disclosure and curiosity provide the background information which will be weighed, reflected upon and evaluated by the parties to an act of consent. These, as identified by numerous Church and secular sources, are the developmental stages where relational skills take root and grow. The way a particular couple actually live out the Big Four is in a marital relationship. Therefore, it would seem that some insights into family dynamics, how a young person learned to get along with others, and then how a couple met, courted and behaved in a marital relationship reveal whether they could or did exchange a valid act of consent at the wedding. While that may all seem ‘personal’, little of it remains that way so that our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and many others are almost as familiar with what we say and do as we ourselves might be. Our lives touch and affect many others, and those many others are often quite willing to assist us in rectifying wrongs and restoring ourselves to a wholesome and happy future which is why, after all, we call them friends.

5. Does my ex get to read all this stuff?

‘Sir’, said the woman, ‘give me that water, and then I shall not be thirsty, nor have to come all this way to draw.’  Jesus replied, ‘Go home, call your husband and come back.’  She answered, “I have no husband.’ Jn 4, 16-17a

Yes. Just as Jesus told the divorced woman to share the water of life with her former spouse, and perhaps all five of them, the Church believes that we ought to share the facts of an examination of consent - even with a non-participating former spouse.  Since an examination of an act of consent would yield a declaration affecting two people, the other party to any act of consent must be notified and given a chance to participate fully. Otherwise, the process itself is invalid because the other party’s rights have been gravely violated. Both the Petitioner and the Respondent (the former spouse) are invited to read the various statements made by themselves and the witnesses so that in justice each may add to or comment upon the evidence before the final decision is made. They are also invited to read the definitive sentence in order to better understand the canonical basis for the decision and, if desired, challenge that decision by the legitimate means available, including appeal.

6. What if I’m unhappy with the results of a Tribunal process?

He who has been wronged should meet with righteous judgment, of whatever religion he may be. It is necessary to examine the character of the petitioners [who] first lay their charges before the bishop [then] all the bishops of the Province. - Canon VI, Council of Constantinople, 382 AD.

From the time of St. Paul, who insisted on the right and obligation of the local Church to maintain its own system of courts, the notion of an appeal has been a central facet of all Church processes. Because the Church takes marriage so seriously, either party to a process can make a formal appeal, adding evidence as he or she thinks might be necessary. Ordinarily, this appeal is made to a specific Tribunal which has been assigned to handle such appeals; however, there is also always an option to appeal a specific case to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (somewhat like our own Supreme Court). The Tribunal official known as the Defender of the Bond is also able to appeal, and indeed must do so if he or she feels that the decision is insufficiently founded.

7. This questionnaire looks awful long – how much do I need to say?

Put all your trust in the LORD and do not rely on your own understanding. Think of him in all your ways and he will smooth your path. Proverbs 3, 1-2

Before saying anything, it is a wonderful idea to enter into prayer, to speak to and then listen to the Lord so that, as Jesus himself once said, your tongue will have the words of the Spirit. Then, in preparing the answers, be sure to say enough to provide adequate factual insights into how you came to make a decision to marry based on three general areas of concern: 1) did you know what you were doing, 2) did you want to do what you were doing, and 3) did you have the personal capacity to do what you wanted to do.  If each of the major questions is answered along these lines, you will provide adequate information from which a determination can be rendered. By the same token, in order to prove that consent was made validly, these same three points need to be proved by actual facts. The law presumes that most human beings after the age of 18, 16 with their parents’ permission (in the civil statutes of the State of Ohio), know what marriage is, want to marry according to its own nature, and have the natural ability to make it work, even if and when problems arise.  It is not, then, necessary to go on and on, or submit every possible bit of information which may come to mind.  This can create confusion and where there is confusion, there can be no certain conclusion.

8. I received a witness questionnaire – what should I say and who gets to see what I write?

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a cellar, but rather on the lamp-stand so that those who enter may see the light.” Lk 11, 33.

Be humble always, and gentle, and patient too. Be forbearing with one another and charitable. Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace and unity which the Spirit gives. Eph. 4, 1-3.

As a witness you have been asked to assist a friend, relative, employer/ee in a Church related process which has no civil effects whatsoever. That person has placed his or her trust in you to do as Paul suggests: answer a few questions with forbearance, gentility, charity, and above all that truthfulness which is inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Witness testimony seeks two fundamental pieces of information, the first is simply your assessment of the integrity and honesty of a party to a Church related process. The second is to corroborate some facts, which the party himself or herself provided, regarding the situation leading up to and proceeding from an act of consent to marriage as understood by the Catholic Church. An honest appraisal as you recollect a period in time is quite adequate. Please, however, go a little bit beyond ‘it was none of my business’. The party who submitted your name does not believe that to have been the case, so if you don’t know how to respond to some aspect of the witness questionnaire, tell us why in a bit of specific, for example, “he was just so quiet he never spoke of that,” “she was so secretive she never shared that with me,” “I was living across town and they didn’t mix a lot with us while courting.” Remember, someone is counting on your honest, charitable, and kind answers to assist him or her in this process, so the key to any answer is not to let them down in that hope.

The second part of the question – who gets to see what you answer – is rather simple: to protect the right of defense, something both Church and State guarantee in their own legal processes, both parties to a questionable act of consent, their representatives, the Tribunal staff and Appeals Tribunal would be reading through your submission. If you have been asked by one of the parties to provide your testimony, it means that he or she wants your help in being as open, honest, and clear as possible. This process seeks the truth, not accusations, blame, or an assessment of guilt, so any answer you provide, if read by either party, should reflect something about which he or she is already aware. Please note that no party and no Church or Tribunal personnel should coach you in what to reply, and if he or she does, you might want to make a note on your response that you were, in fact, asked to provide ready-made responses.

9. What does the Catholic Church, and a bunch of unmarried guys, know about marriage?

But in the beginning, at creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, and be made one with his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. It follows that they are no longer two individuals; they are one flesh. Mk 10, 6-8

In the quote above, Jesus is actually citing Genesis, and since that ancient book was first passed down through the generations by the People of the Covenant, the Church – both its men and its women – has had an intense interest in marriage. So the answer to this question is simple: a lot. Tribunal staff, whether male or female, whether married or single, are highly trained individuals who form a community of capable and knowledgeable experts far beyond ‘giving an annulment’. In fact, most of the priests and other staff – which includes married people – who work on a diocesan Tribunal will have studied human nature, human psychology, and the dynamics of consent and communication, as well as ordinary interrelationships which mark us out as civilized and good people. After a few years of work with the processes of an ordinary tribunal, those same staff may well have ‘lived’ with hundreds of troubled couples who endure failing and failed marital relationships and can bring to bear not only the technical material learned in a class, but the reality of many relationships which have foundered. The work of the Tribunal should be seen as part and parcel of a much larger process which is often called Pastoral Counseling in as much as one of the goals of the Tribunal Staff is to assist parties to a failed marriage better understand what went wrong so that the same difficulties do not arise in future.

10. How long does this take?

Happy the man who listens to me, watching daily at my threshold with his eyes on the doorway; Proverbs 8, 34

Patience is the companion of wisdom. Augustine

An ordinary examination takes as long as it takes, and it may well require some serious watching and waiting on the part of a Petitioner anxious to remarry. In the ordinary process, there are some built in waiting periods so that people have time to pray, reflect, think, and only then to respond. These waiting periods are a requirement of the law. However, it is not uncommon that some party or witness requires even more time to prayerfully reflect upon and then respond to the various issues raised about a specific act of consent, so a petition for the ordinary process should begin with the expectation that it may require anywhere from nine months to a year, and even longer if a witness or two fail to reply to the Tribunal in a prompt fashion. On the other hand, length of the process can be greatly compressed if a Petitioner works closely with the Procurator/Advocate and other parties so that all involved make their responses in a timely manner. Some dioceses may take longer, or might be able to do it more quickly. Any appeal may also lengthen the process, and an appeal to the Roman Rota may take several years since it must go back and forth between Rome and the Petitioner’s diocese. Parties to a Tribunal examination should also be aware that the entire process is time-sensitive to unnecessary and lengthy delays, and at certain points a case will move forward even if one party or the other has failed to respond within a fixed time frame.

11. What is the status of children born to a marital consent which the Catholic Church says was invalid?

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, for fear they may grow disheartened. Col 4, 21

Even if a marriage is given a declaration of nullity, children are not considered “illegitimate” by the Church, since their parents entered marriage in good faith. Children are and always will be the children of their parents whose obligations of love, nurture, support and training up in the ways of the Lord are not lapsed by the unfortunate occurrence of a divorce. No process of the Catholic Church ever in any way waives the responsibilities of a parent toward his or her children, regardless of the status of a failed marital relationship. In fact, a declaration of freedom to marry must also include a clear reminder to a remarried parent that he or she has not and cannot abandon a child born to any other relationship. Children are a gift from God and a blessing to parents, family and community, and the Church believes and teaches that they ought to be treated as such by their parents, even when the parents cannot treat one another well.

12. What is the cost of a Tribunal process?

The laborer is worthy of his hire. Mt 10, 10.

This question is asked in many ways, or forms the basis of many complaints; however, the answer is rather simple. Yes, if you ask the Church to undertake an examination of consent, it will ‘cost’ something. The financial aspect of that cost is determined by looking at the ordinary budget of the Tribunal which maintains offices (rent, utilities, phone, duplicating and records), has a staff (salaries and wages, insurance, retirement), and must therefore pay its bills. Based on the assistance made possible by generous parishioner support of the diocesan Annual Catholic Appeal, and support from various endowments established so that these services can be offered at a reduced rate, there is no required fee for any of the various processes. We do, however, provide the opportunity for Petitioners to offer a donation to assist with the expense involved. Since each process requires a different time scale and records, please see the applications for any of the processes, where a suggested donation amount is indicated.

A second aspect of the question often asked is whether the Tribunal will go faster if a large donation accompanies the application, or whether the Tribunal will not act at all if no donation is provided. The law of the Church forbids the acceptance of money in exchange for a favorable decision or the increased speed of the process, as this would be an affront to justice and truth which are the goals of any judicial process in the Church. Therefore, each and every petition will be treated equally regardless of the donation amount. Furthermore, no case is ever delayed or rejected because no donation is offered.

13. What on earth does whether I lived with somebody have to do with exchanging valid consent?

While the psychological dynamic which makes cohabitation ‘do’ what it does is relatively unknown, the evidence is that the mere fact of living together for a period of as little as five continuous days leaves behind serious interior wounds which make a subsequent marriage nearly always fail (in fact, some longitudinal studies have found a ‘divorce rate’ of nearly 100%). It seems that there are at least two, and probably many more, mental activities going on which lead to that tragic result. First, all human beings have a tremendous natural inclination to marry according to human nature, that is, in a permanent, faithful, childbearing (therefore man and woman) union. In order to ‘live together,’ that natural urge has to be forcibly set aside, and that requires a choice made within the intellect and will. Since the choice to cohabit is at odds with our humanness, such a choice requires a tremendous effort of the will which drains the electro-chemical reservoir and leaves behind a stunted capacity to follow our real and very human desires.  Weakened human nature has become further weakened. And that weakness plants within the mind the actual object of the choice made when one decides to cohabit to avoid a permanent relationship by retaining a clear and present ‘open door’ to depart at will.  The mind now has at its core a deeply seeded sense that leaving a marital relationship is among the options retained at consent.

The second serious flaw with regard to cohabitation lies in the uneasy sense that anything could set off the other party and lead him or her to depart. That unease tends to mask open and objective communication, in a sense letting fear replace openness so that problematic behaviors, bad habits, and a host of other serious issues are either swept under the carpet or avoided at any cost. This means that issues normally faced and surmounted during a normal courtship lie in wait until license or marriage certificate allows them to be brought up, often with disastrous results since resentments and memory intrude to prevent resolution. Cohabitation comes with tremendous risks which can, and unfortunately often do, vitiate the ability to consent to marriage.

14. Oh, come on!  Everybody’s been having premarital sex since Adam and Eve!  What difference can it possibly make?

The teaching of the Catholic Church has held from the beginning that sexual intercourse should be part and parcel of the marital union, and sexual expressions should wait until a couple have been married and are united in a permanent, faithful union. And, since the beginning, people have paid little heed to that regulation since human beings are endowed with emotional and hormonal qualities which make sexuality a powerful and almost irresistible force. However, while we now live in what is perhaps as licentious an age as any in the past, with sexuality used as a product, an enticement to undertake certain actions (like buying a car or a bar of soap), and an easily acquired internet ‘habit,’ the expectation placed upon us by the Church seems to make a lot of sense, as if maybe Jesus and the Holy Spirit (who guides the Church in its pronouncements) know more than we do!

Human sexuality has three (and no doubt many, many more) powerful markers which we now know point to its best potential being exercised in a permanent and faithful union.  One of these is its extremely overwhelming emotional valence so that sexual activity is immediately fixating. That means that while one may hop from bed to bed, motel room to motel room, or person to person, the first experience of sexuality becomes the benchmark one will consistently attempt to recreate, as it has left behind an extremely strong emotional memory. Because this memory is so strong, sexual expression becomes unconsciously habituating. That means that the physical interior systems brace themselves to repeat the same pattern (think about any bad habit, or good one, and you should see the connection – habits are so automatic we don’t even think about them before we find ourselves deep into them) and this automated repetition removes the truly human aspect of the intellect and soul from the equation. Finally, human sexuality has been shown to be among the most internally oriented activities anyone will ever experience. That means that as an act, sexual intercourse is self-satisfying (which leads to the moral dilemma of the person who has fixated on and habituated to self-stimulation or some other form of inappropriate sexual expression including internet addictions) and, again unless we exercise serious intellectual and spiritual supervision and control, the community aspect (what the Church would refer to as respect for the dignity, desires, and will of one’s partner) is easily set aside in favor of pursuing sex for self-gratification.

Premarital sex may well be something everybody does, but that does not mean that in individual cases it does not occur without serious consequences for a future marital union.     

Citations are to the Code of Canon Law [c.] and/or the Instruction Dignitas connubii [DC], the official procedural handbook for marriage cases.

If you have other questions, please contact the Toledo Diocesan Tribunal, 1933 Spielbusch Ave., Toledo, Ohio, 43604-5360; call us at 419.244.6711, or e-mail the Tribunal at pbutler@toledodiocese.org

Why the Church Maintains Courts to Examine Failed Marital Relationships

It appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life both of the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.  – John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges

The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”  –Gaudium et spes, 48

Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. –Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603

We will add one more official reference to important Church documents later, but for now these three citations might begin our journey into how the Catholic Church has come to see marriage.  To outline that walk through history and sacramental theology, it might be useful to frame the discussion in the context of the Profession of Faith proclaimed by the faithful every Sunday.  As a reminder, this profession can be traced back to the earliest days of the Church so that it is often referred to as the Apostles’ Creed.  Let’s begin with the opening line:

I believe in one God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

What does this have to do with marriage?  Reread the citation from the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes above.  God made it all, and has the power, and the authority to do so according to his plan, not that of any other single person, any group of persons, or any government created by any group of persons.  Since marriage as it is meant to be, a partnership between two human persons wherein love is nurtured and future generations are engendered, predates any human culture, then marriage can truly be said to be among the original creative acts of God. It would seem that if we truly accept the profession of faith, then we must also accept God as the author of marriage, and its lawgiver. This leads to a couple of initial conclusions.  We, none of us, can shape it to be what we want it to be. We must then undertake to discover what it is in and of itself. There is a long tradition of just such research within the framework of organized religion, in particular the religion which formulated the very profession we accept. That means anyone who wants to get married must accept marriage created by God. All because I believe in God the Father.  But there’s more to the story:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son. . .

What does that have to do with marriage? The life and ministry of Jesus were for a purpose, and anyone familiar with the Gospel of John and the three letters of John will be familiar with the underlying purpose of God’s redemptive work in Jesus. It’s often referred to as the Law of Love, and in general leads to the belief that though Jesus, people, and in fact, the world, are to be made holy and sacred. Since people are more often than not interrelated by any number of bonds, then marriage is among the relationships Jesus intends to make holy and sacred. In fact, the faith community has for a long, long time held that one of the primary purposes of any relationship, and all the more so in marriage, is to perfect others and lead them to the ultimate end of salvation, the Kingdom of God.  Husbands and wives fall in love, and that means they ought to have as their primary concern the salvation of the spouse, and of the family and children which may result. If we truly believe in Jesus then marriage takes on a special character as a means of assisting somebody in getting into heaven!  But there’s still more:

I believe in the Holy Spirit. . .

Anyone familiar with the Word as recorded for us in both the Old and New Testaments understands that God speaks to his people through a variety of means, including prophets, evangelists, and the Spirit working in individuals and communities. St. Paul reminds us that for the committed Christian, there are manifold gifts and each and every one of them is given for a purpose. That purpose is for the building up of the body of Christ. It would seem, then, that anyone who proclaims belief in the Holy Spirit admits of certain rights of the community in any marriage and obligations of the marriage toward the community!  Here’s where we include the other citation mentioned at the outset of this article, so take a look at the commitment to which any Catholic couple agrees at the time of the marriage, a commitment which all marriages mirror in some way:

In the presence of one another, we individually declare our freedom to marry and our freedom from anything that hinders us from celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony. We hold marriage to be a life-long and faithful union; a process of choosing each other for the mutual sharing of our life and our love; a union which is open to children; a union which is modeled after and symbolizes God’s ever faithful love for his people.  It is this partnership of life and love that we seek in marriage and to which we will publicly give our consent during the marriage ritual.

We include this important citation at this point because of what follows in the Profession of Faith, namely:

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. . .

If we truly believe in a church, and have placed our belief in the one God who creates all things, then when we come to get married we bind ourselves not only to the marriage created before God, but to the rules of the faith community (that holy, catholic and apostolic church) which by or own belief is charged with the proper administration of the most sacred moments in the life of the community, among them, marriage. Let’s see why this might be so. 

A church, or ecclesial community, has a theology: a systematic understanding of God and his relationships with people developed over time and regularly taught to the members of that church.  A church also has special celebrations which mark its theological understanding of its relationship to God, ceremonies which both invoke his presence and blessings, and which call upon the faithful to appropriately live out their own lives and relationships in a fundamentally religious manner. A church, as was suggested in the first citation at the outset of this article, also has rules and regulations to make sure that people can do what belonging to the church requires and do it in a timely, wholesome manner. Among the most important of all human relationships, whether in or out of an organized church, is marriage, so any church ought to have in its collection of rules and regulations some understanding of marriage as it affects the life of the ecclesial community, that is, the part of the church beyond the couple who ‘get married’. 

So, where does our belief in Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and church get us as regards marriage?  There are some obvious conclusions to be drawn. First, marriage is not a personal possession.  While some people speak of ‘my marriage’, or even ‘our marriage,’ as if it were the property of the individual or couple, it isn’t.  Marriage is perhaps the most public of human relationships and therefore never under the thumb of any of its celebrants.  No one who ‘gets married’ can define it as he or she pleases, nor can they change its terms at personal, or even mutual whim. Marriage exists apart from anyone who wants into that relationship and has its own rules, its own regulations, its own obligations, its own duties, its own expectations, and couples must undertake to meet all of those requirements as both individuals and as a married team. The rules and regulations spring not so much from what the church might want, or from what its members might want, but from the church’s intense study of marriage according to faith.

First and foremost, marriage is seen as both the key and initial cell of a society, and that includes the church (for a fuller study, do a Google search for St. John Paul II’s Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio). Marriage forms the bedrock on which all society is based by revealing the essential human interrelationships. That means marriage must be, like society, long lasting or permanent.  It also means that there better be a strong sense of fidelity to the relationship. It also means that there better be an openness to extending the life of the relationship beyond its original partners and into the limitless future by doing what it takes to make children. It also means that there better be some serious teamwork going on to make that happen, and that means a partnership in which both parties are equal in every sense of the word.  Such a community, formed by husband and wife, becomes sign and symbol of God’s ever faithful love for his people by fulfilling the command of Jesus to evangelize the world by living the law of love.

It ought to be clear that if the community of faith, the church, has rules for getting married which derive from the Profession of Faith, then people who come to the church to get married ought to follow them. Once married, there are other rules to follow which do not generally concern the Tribunal. But those which are in place to get married are the constant concern of the Tribunal. In fact, in many Tribunal processes touching on marriage, the usual ‘piece’ of marriage being examined is consent, the moment in time when the rules to get married must all be in place. Essentially, the rules are quite simple, and can be found in numerous church documents, from the Catechism and Code cited above to hundreds of books and pamphlets published for the education and preparation of young people, middle aged people, and older people who want to get married. 

So what are these simple rules?  For a fuller exposition, see the EXPLANATION OF THE GROUNDS OF NULLITY document on this web page (see the “Guidance Documents” tab) that discusses the grounds for a nullity of consent, but at root there are four issues of greatest concern:

  • Anyone who wants to get married must be free to do so.
  • Anyone wanting to get married must know that marriage is a permanent consortium [partnership] of a man and a woman which includes some sexual cooperation and apart from any personally defined notion, expectation, desire, want or need.
  • Anyone wanting to get married must have the interior disposition to undertake the actual object of marriage in its complete form of a permanent, faithful and equal partnership open to the generation and education of offspring.
  • Anyone who wants to get married must have the interior capacity to ‘deliver the goods’, which is to say, the ability to live out the obligations to spouse, children, community and church entailed by the exchange of consent. 

Once a particular marriage has, as the Roman Rota (analogous to a Catholic “supreme court”) likes to say, suffered “shipwreck,” it is the consent that is being examined to make sure the rules were in fact followed to the letter. It is only consent that is being examined. However, since consent arises from what anyone knows, the past life of the parties can be helpful. And since the way people live out even the most flawed consent may well lead to a number of years spent together, the course of a marriage is also useful in determining whether consent followed the rules.

The Church’s Tribunals, like its faithful, are obliged to a way of life which derives from and is empowered by the Profession of Faith.

Prepared by the Tribunal of the Diocese of Toledo, and copyright 2009 by the Tribunal of the Diocese of Toledo.

The citations contained in this article can all be found at the official Vatican web site, https://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html.

Supplemental Note on Divorce and Status in the Church

The question is often asked by Catholics: “I recently got a divorce. Am I now prohibited from celebrating the other sacraments of the Catholic Church?” The answer to that is rather simple: of course not. No one is prohibited from celebrating the sacraments unless and until you remarry without first obtaining a declaration of freedom to marry from competent Church authority. It is not the separation of the spouses that affects the respect one ought to show the sacramental life of the Church, but the remarriage without first obtaining a declaration of nullity.  Unfortunately, many very good Catholic people who got caught up in a very messy attempt to build a lasting marital union and find that this cannot be done, get a divorce, and then erroneously believe that the separation makes them outcasts or not good enough for the other sacraments of the Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and often it is the sacraments which assist those wounded by failed marriages to come to grips with the reality of moving on.

On the other hand, when a Catholic who got a divorce remarries without an annulment, the Church asks that that person reverence the sacramental life of the Church by refraining from receiving the Eucharist while there is an open question about his or her sacramental marital status. All too often, Catholics forget that when they marry there are two simultaneous events taking place, a sacrament whose rules and regulation have been entrusted to the Church, and a civil ceremony by which the parties agree to abide by the civil law regarding the civil effects of marriage. When they obtain a civil decree of dissolution or divorce, they incorrectly presume that the other celebration of the original ceremony, the one binding them to the rules of the sacraments, has also been dissolved. This is not the case. The State can only undo what the State did, and it is for the Church to examine the consent exchanged in light of the sacraments. The Church’s law recognizes that the parties to a failed marriage may well suspect that that failed marriage was not confected in such a way as to make it bind forever, but nevertheless, marriage is presumed to be valid until proven otherwise. Until that occurs, the Catholic who remarries without having addressed the status of his or her first union should stand back from the Eucharist out of respect for this Sacrament. The Church has processes which exist for the sole purpose of looking at the record and the facts and making a determination consonant with the sacramental life of the Church.