The Catholic Church teaches us that marriage is an intimate, exclusive and permanent partnership of a man and a woman which exists for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.
Marriage is brought into being by the voluntary and deliberate exchange of consent (marriage vows) of the parties. For the good of all concerned (spouses, children, families, society and the church) every marriage (whether of Catholics or non-Catholics) is presumed valid. This is the constant teaching of the Church.
While the Catholic Church upholds the dignity, sacredness and permanence of marriage, it cannot ignore the reality of separation and divorce in our society. The Church must reach out to those who are struggling with the pain of a broken marriage.
An Annulment (properly called a Declaration of Nullity) is a decision issued by the Catholic Church, through its Marriage Tribunal, that a given marriage is invalid (not binding) because some essential element of marriage was lacking at the time of the exchange of consent.
Annulments ARE NOT Catholic divorces. A divorce is a civil legal action whereby the contract of marriage is dissolved, division of property and custody of children are settled, and a husband and wife are declared free to enter new unions with different partners. A Catholic Declaration of Nullity states that, in the eyes of the Church, there was no true bond ever established; it has no civil effects in Canada. Since the Catholic Church recognizes all marriages (of Catholics and of others) with few exceptions, the Church’s nullity process is a way of helping persons come to peace in themselves, and within the community of the Church, after a marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Christ the Lord calls upon the Church to be a community of healing and reconciliation. The legal procedures of the Church’s Tribunals are based on the principle that our Faith Community cares about those who suffer from broken marriages. It is our hope that this information will address some of your questions and concerns about marriage, annulments, and the role of the Tribunal. Anyone wishing to apply for a Declaration of Nullity, or wishing to enquire about their own marriage situation, is invited to call the Marriage Tribunal.
On September 8th, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio entitled Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge) introducing significant changes to the procedures for marriage nullity cases. These changes will come into effect on December 8th. The changes pertain only to procedural law. There is no change in the church’s constant teaching on the nature of marriage. There are no changes to the grounds for marriage nullity. In the next three months, representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, diocesan officials and canonists with particular expertise in procedural law, will work together to formulate practical guidelines to assist diocesan tribunals in implementing the new procedures. Details will be published as soon as possible, and information sessions for clergy and for the people of the diocese will be scheduled.