Diocesan Tribunal

The Mission of the Tribunal under the guidance of our Bishop is: To reflect and experience Christ in the ministry of justice through the compassionate and equitable application of church law and To protect the rights and dignity of each person without discrimination and to provide an opportunity for healing.

We praise you, God of our ancestors, we praise your name for ever and ever. Let all your created order praise you for ever.  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.

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.

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.

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 the Catholic Center or any of our trained Field Advocates to discuss beginning a process or to obtain further information.

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 (cvasko@toledodiocese.org) o de asistencia para comenzar de proceso.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher P. Vasko, JV, JCD

Judicial Vicar





Mrs. Paula Butler
Office Manager




Rev. Msgr. Marvin G. Borger, JCL
Rev. Eric J. Culler, JCL
Very Rev. George P. Miller, JCL
Rev. David M. Ross, STL, JCD

Defenders of the Bond
Sr. Christine Rody, JCL
Ms. Kelly A. Schaffer, JCL

Curator, Procurator/Advocate for Respondents
Ms. Patricia A. Eingle

Ecclesisastical Notaries
Mrs. Paula S. Butler
Ms. Mary Pat Smith

As required by the Instruction Dignitatis connubi, art 112, §1, Field Advocates 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 presentation. Each has been certified and approved by the Bishop. Please feel free to call upon any of these members of the Tribunal Staff to make inquiries, begin a presentation, or track the progress of a case in which you are involved.
All priests, deacons and pastoral leaders of all parishes are deputed as Advocates to serve the people of the parish.
The Ministry of Justice provided by the Tribunal is funded in part by offerings made to the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA).
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Deanery
(Toledo Central City)
Mr. Thomas Carone
Historic St. Patrick Parish
Mr. Maynard Porter
St. Martin de Porres Parish
Sr. Rosellyn Thiesen, SND
St. Martin de Porres Parish
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Deanery
(Toledo Central City)
Jeffrey J. Gralak
Historic St. Patrick Parish
Our Lady of the Lake Deanery
(on Lake Erie)
Deacon Bill Burch
St. Mary Parish
419.625.7465, ext 15
Deacon Maury Hall
Immaculate Conception Parish
Port Clinton
Our Lady Queen of Peace Deanery
(Northwest corner of the diocese)
Dee Pepple
St. Michael Parish
Susie Smalley
St. Michael Parish
Precious Blood of Jesus Deanery
(Tiffin region)
Ms Nancy Kimmett
All Saints Parish
New Riegel
Kristin Welly
All Saints Parish
New Riegel
Marvin Welly
All Saints
New Riegel
Precious Blood of Jesus Deanery
(Tiffin region)
Lorrie Seiple
All Saints Parish
New Riegel
St. Agnes Deanery
(West Toledo)
Deacon Robert Beisser
Christ the King Parish
Margaret McCready
Gesu Parish
Theresa D. Paredes
St. Catherine of Siena Parish
St. Francis of Assisi Deanery
(Central region)
Ms Patricia A. Eingle
St. Michael Parish
Ms Lorie M. “Shellie” Gabel
St. Wendelin Parish
Deacon Kevin Wintersteller
Transfiguration of the Lord Parish
Upper Sandusky
St. George Deanery
(Putnam County)
Jeanne Beutler
SS. Peter & Paul Parish
St. John Neumann Deanery
(Huron County region)
Ms Linda M. Salmons
St. Anthony Milan and
St. Mary Norwalk
Ms Patricia Krause
St. Paul
St. Juan Diego Deanery
(Southeast region)
Deacon Mr. Vincent Foos
St. Francis Xavier Parish
Deacon Mr. Allan Kopp
St. Mary Parish
Mansfield OH
St. Juan Diego Deanery
(Southeast region)
Ms Judy Hess Pompei
St. Mary Parish
Michael R. Schopieray
St. Peter Parish Mansfield
Patti Kastelic
St. Peter Parish
St. Juan Diego Deanery
(Southeast region)
Sherry Stockmaster
Resurrection Parish
St. Junipero Serra Deanery
(Allen and Van Wert Counties)
Ms Roseann Roop
St. John/St. Rose
Robert Orwick
St. Gerard Parish
St. Katherine Drexel Deanery
(South Toledo and
northern Wood County)
Deacon Philip Avina
St. Aloysius Parish
Bowling Green
Ms Judy Warntz
St. Joan of Arc Parish
St. Katherine Drexel Deanery
(South Toledo and
northern Wood County)
St. Luke Deanery
(western Lucas and
eastern Fulton Counties)
Sr. Joy Barker, OSF/S
Holy Trinity Parish
Deacon Anthony J. Pistilli
St. Joseph Parish
Joanne Denyer
St. Joseph Parish
St. Maximillian Kolbe Deanery
(Defiance, Henry and Paulding Counties)
Ms Sue Hoeffel
St. Mary Parish
Ms Connie Moffit
St. John the Evangelist Parish
St. Maximillian Kolbe Deanery
(Defiance, Henry and Paulding Counties)
Mr. George Joseph Tumeo
St. John Parish
St. Philomena Deanery
(Ottawa and Sandusky Counties)
Special Advocates
Eastern Rite
Lubna Seba
St. Thomas the Apostle
Chaldean Catholic Diocese
25603 Berg Road
Southfield, MI 48033


Petition for the Pauline Privilege (cc. 1141-1150)

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. I Cor 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 (since there is a civil marriage license which the Church would presume had led to a valid marriage) The following criteria must be met for the use of this privilege.

  1. The two parties were certainly unbaptized at the time of the wedding and the Respondent remains unbaptized at this point;
  2. It is clear that the possibility of reconciliation does not exists; and
  3. There is conversion (Christian baptism) on the part of the Petitioner.

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 Catholic seeks to marry a convert to Catholicism, who was formerly non-baptized and married to a non-baptized person;
  2. A Catholic seeks to marry a convert to another Christian church who was formerly non-baptized and married to a non-baptized person;
  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 (to a non-baptized) marriage is required.  In either case, all the requirements for a mixed marriage enumerated in cc. 1124-1129, must be met.

A brief outline of the stages involved in a Pauline Privilege of the faith case:

  1. Submission of the Petition for the Pauline Privilege and required documentation;
  2. Questionnaire sent to the Petitioner via the Procurator/Advocate;
  3. Collection of the deposition of the Respondent (if deemed necessary) and the testimony of witnesses regarding the non-baptism of the parties.  The non-baptism of both parties must be verified;
  4. Review of the evidence by the Tribunal;
  5. The Decree granting the Pauline Privilege is issued authorizing the Petitioner’s baptism and declaring that after his/her baptism, the party is free to contract marriage within the Roman Catholic Church.

Petition for the Pauline Privilege (cc. 1141-1150)

“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”
-Key Note – 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, 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 among the seven sacraments of the New Dispensation 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, not even 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 Laws of the Church 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, that makes 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 facts of 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.  Most former spouses don’t read the accumulated facts; however, since an examination of an act of consent would yield a declaration affecting two people, the other party to any act of consent ought to be notified and have a chance to participate. Only where there is a clearly indicated reason not to make contact (usually a civil restraining order or its equivalent) would the Tribunal not contact a former spouse. 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 examination takes place. They are also invited to read the disposition of the matter in order to better understand the canonical basis for the decision and, if desired, prepare an appropriate 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.
  • 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, there is always and ever an automatic appeal of every case to a special review panel; however, 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 Tribunals of the Roman Rota (somewhat like our own Supreme Court).

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 rose to the test of validly, these same three points need to be proved by actual facts although 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 one work, even if and when problems arise.  It is not, then, necessary to go on and on, or submit very 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/her trust in you to do as Paul suggests: answer a few questions with forbearance, gentility and charity, and above all that truthfulness which is inspired of 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, by means of some very general questions, to corroborate some facts, which the party him/herself provided, of a situation leading up to and proceeding from an act of consent to marriage as understood by the Catholic Church. The Tribunal does not go into specifics because there is no desire to ‘lead’ a witness, and 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 charitable, kind answers to assist him or her in a time of transition, 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 send back, 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. Please note that the questions are sufficiently ‘general’ that most witnesses need not worry about whether a particular answer (the light Luke reminds we have to shed on the truth) would trouble or vex a particular party. Can you ask for confidentiality? In general, this should be a last-chance option since the right of defense is paramount and your testimony is otherwise not useful for a party to move forward with a Church related process. However, yes, you may ask to have certain parts of your testimony kept confidential by so marking them as you respond. The Tribunal hopes that this would be necessary minimally. The answers seek 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. By the way, 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 around as camp fire stories 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 all 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 may well require some serious watching and waiting on the part of a Petitioner anxious to remarry. In a formal case 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 formal case should begin with the expectation that it may require anywhere from nine months to a year, and even longer if a witness who was not informed that his/her name was being submitted puts the interrogatory on top of the refrigerator and forgets that it is there.  On the other hand, length of the process can be greatly compressed if a petitioner works closely with the Procurator/Advocate and other parties involved so that all involved parties make their responses in a timely manner. Some dioceses may take longer, or might be able to do it more quickly. An appeal ordinarily must be completed within sixty days of its acceptance, and a Rotal appeal 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
  • 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 attacks the legitimacy of children or 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 a reasonable fee for each of the various processes. Everyone at the Tribunal hopes that the fee is low enough that no one cannot afford it; however, where need is shown, there are various grants and reductions which can be made in specific cases. Since each process requires a different time scale and records, please see the applications for any of the processes where the specific fee is clearly indicated. A second aspect of the question often asked with regard to a fee 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 fee is paid.
  • The Law of the Church forbids the acceptance of anything other than the required fee, so if a check for several thousand dollars were to accompany a particular case, the check would be considered as a donation and deposited to the general funds of the Diocese while the case was processed in accord with the Law itself. No case is ever delayed or rejected because somebody cannot afford the fee or believes in conscience that the Church ought to provide this service gratis; however it is helpful if the Petitioner mentions this on the fee page of the application to avoid unnecessary further communication ands billing.

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 in 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 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 we may hop from bed to bed, motel room to motel room, or person to person, the first experience of our sexuality becomes the benchmark we 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 our 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 General Instruction Digniais comubii [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

And 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 relay important 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 and 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 of 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 society, and that includes the church (for a fuller study, go to www.vatica.va/english and tap the icon of St. Peter then go to John Paul II and look up his 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 there better be a strong sense of fidelity to the relationship. It also means 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 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 all 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 article in this web page 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 (our Catholic supreme court) likes to say, suffered shipwreck, it is the consent that is being examined to make sure the rules of consent 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, is 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, www.vatican.va

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 getting that all-important declaration of freedom.  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 into a new life with new directions and new opportunities. The Church would never want to restrict access to the life-giving sacramental celebrations which build up both the individual and the body of Christ.

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 celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper while there is an open question about the 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, that 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. Church Law recognizes that the parties to a failed marriage may well know that that failed marriage was not confected with the necessary grace to make it bind forever; but there is still a paper trail in a parish registry (marriage records and baptismal records) which states clearly that a marriage had been celebrated and is presumed to be valid, and until that paper trail has been adequately addressed, the Catholic who remarries without having done so should stand back from the sacraments out of respect for them, not because that person is being punished or excluded. 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.

Supplemental Note on Jurisdiction

Just as in the civil forum, a 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.

The diocese where the original exchange of consent 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, or a courthouse or 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 Respondent (the non-petitioning party) to an act of consent maintains her/his ordinary residence (called a domicile by the Church). Since the Law presumes that the Respondent, even one not participating, has the full right of defense, it seems appropriate that the closest Tribunal that can serve the needs of that Defense should have a natural obligation to render assistance.

Because parties often move apart after a divorce, the third Tribunal that can obtain jurisdiction is where the Petitioner maintains his/her ordinary residence. This is not a natural jurisdiction, but is surrendered to that Tribunal by the residential Tribunal of the Respondent, and for much the same reasons as outlined above. This permission can only be granted if the parties both live in the same Episcopal Conference, which generally means the same nation.

Finally, the fourth Tribunal which can be granted permission to take up 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 witnesses still reside. Then, with few family still there, the couple, for sentimental reasons only, returned to a distant diocese to marry where Grandma or Grandpa married. In such a case, and again only with the permission of the Tribunal of the Respondent, that place where the couple met, wooed and agreed to marry can be given jurisdiction.

If the whereabouts of the Respondent cannot be determined, it is often best to submit an application in the tribunal of the territory (diocese) where the original marriage took place.