Annulment seminars offer practical advice and dispel myths

Seminars answer questions about who can be granted an annulment and under what circumstances

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PROVIDENCE – The diocesan Marriage Tribunal will continue its seminar series about marriage annulments through October and the beginning of November.

The seminars, presented by Father Ronald P. Simeone, Vicar for Judicial matters, offer practical information about who is eligible for an annulment and what the process entails.

Father Simeone spoke to a group at the first seminar on September 25 at St. Francis de Sales Church in North Kingstown. He outlined the entire process of applying for and receiving an annulment, beginning with why it is a necessary process.

“The state's answer is simple, get a divorce and break the contract,” he said, “but we believe that... no one can dissolve it.” The annulment process, however, seeks to determine if the marriage was valid in the eyes of the Chruch, that is, a true scramental bond.

There are a variety of conditions under which a Catholic marriage could be considered invalid, but "every marriage is presumed valid until someone alleges its invalidity," Father Simeone said.

The reasons a marriage could be annulled, as outlined by Father Simeone, are:

• Lack of due discretion – Due to extreme immaturity, one or both of the parties involved did not properly understand the commitment;

• Lack of due competence – One or both parties was incapable of understanding or living out their new role as husband or wife;

• Intention against children – One party deceived the other of their intention to never have children until after the marriage;

• Intention against fidelity;

• Error – One party kept something fundamental about themselves a secret from their spouse;

• Force or fear – One or both parties were coerced into the union or fearful of the consequences of not entering into the union;

• Simulation – One party was simply going through the motions of the sacrament, e.g. to receive a green card for citizenship;

Once one of these flaws in a marriage has been identified by a divorced person, and once their legal divorce is finalized, they may begin the process of filing for an annulment.

Unless the ex-spouse has moved out of the country, a Catholic may file for an annulment with the marriage tribunal of their Diocese. The first step, according to Father Simeone, is to approach a parish priest. He will be able to first determine if the conditions of your divorce meet those necessary for an annulment and then will begin the preliminary paperwork. At first, the marriage tribunal only needs the basic details of both parties, including the current address of the ex-spouse, copies of baptismal and marriage certificates for both parties and a $100 deposit. The parish priest will forward this information to the Marriage Tribunal.

The tribunal reviews the forms and “if we see enough smoke there, we assume there’s fire,” said Father Simeone.

A 14-page questionnaire will then be mailed to the petitioner that asks for detailed information about the marriage and the problems that led to the divorce. Also, the ex-spouse will be notified that an annulment has been requested and will be invited to participate in the process.

The petitioner is asked to identify two people who can be called as witnesses to the marriage and subsequent divorce. Usually, Father Simeone said, witnesses are family members or close friends, although there are no requirements except that the person have knowledge of the marriage.

“Your witnesses are not character witnesses,” said Father Simeone. “We assume you're a nice person.”

Once the tribunal has received the completed questionnaire and heard from the witnesses, petitioner and, if they choose to participate, the respondent, the Marriage Tribunal renders a decision based on the facts of the case. “We’re not looking for technicalities, we're looking for the truth,” Father Simeone said.

“Most of the people who approach us do have heartbreaking, valid complaints,” he added.

The decision of the tribunal has to be ratified by an appeals court in Norwich, CT or Bridgeport, CT. at which point the respondent can choose to appeal the decision and a new trial will begin.

If there are no appeals and the decision is ratified, an official annulment is granted and the marriage is effectively declared null.

A person who has been granted an annulment can be remarried in the church.

Father Simeone said annulments are important as a way to “address the pain people are feeling and to address their feelings of separation from the church (when they get a divorce).”

Fees for the whole process are set at $500 and go to offset the costs of operational costs and salaries for the Tribunal. The process takes between 12 and 18 months to complete. Father Simeone urges people to think of the process as a trial. “It’s not simply a matter of filling out papers,” he said.

Seminar Dates

Additional annulment seminars will be held at 7 p.m. on the following dates:

Tuesday October 9

St. Anthony Church

5 Gibbs Street

North Providence

Tuesday October 16

St. Martha Church

2595 Pawtucket Avenue

East Providence

Tuesday October 30

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

141 State Street

Bristol

Tuesday November 6

SS. Rose and

Clement Church

111 Long Street

Warwick

For more information about the seminars or annulments the Marriage Tribunal can be reached at (401) 278-4666