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Canonical Services at 1201 E. Highland Ave, San Bernardino, CA 92404 US - Types of Matters Presented to a Tribunal

Types of Matters Presented to a Tribunal



1. Defect of Form/Lack of Form

Lack of Form: A Catholic entered the marriage in a non-Catholic ceremony, civil or religious.

Defect of Form: One of the elements of the required form was missing. For example, a pastor or properly deputed priest or deacon must receive the matrimonial consent of the parties. If a Catholic priest or deacon and a non-Catholic minister are present and the non-Catholic minister is the one who receives the consent there is a defect of form and the marriage is invalid. If the priest or deacon is from another diocese and does not have faculties in this diocese or proper deputation from the pastor, there is a defect of form and the marriage is invalid. If the couple wrote their own vows and they do not incorporate the vows provided in an approved ritual there is a defect of form and the marriage is invalid. (If the wedding was video taped there may be evidence to establish who actually accepted the vows on behalf of the Church or whether the vows were those from an approved ritual.)

2. Ligamen

One of the parties to the marriage being disputed was bound by a prior bond. This will not refer to a prior bond of the person who wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church. All of the prior bonds of that party must be declared invalid before they can enter another marriage. Thus, Ligamen refers to the prior bond of the Respondent which establishes the fact that they were ineligible to enter the disputed marriage because of the existence of a prior valid marriage. In such cases it is the first marriage of that person, if there was more than one, which establishes the ineligibility. The problem here will be in securing evidence through the Respondent who may not want to cooperate.


1. Pauline Privilege—by the Bishop

A person who was unbaptized at the time of their prior marriage and was married to an unbaptized person may seek permission to marry a Catholic. Usually this occurs when the Petitioner is seeking admission to the Catholic Church through baptism. However, it can apply to a Petitioner who was baptized in any Church, during the prior marriage, with a form of baptism recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, who has left their first (prior) unbaptized spouse and now wishes to enter into marriage with a Catholic. The rationale is that is the unbaptized partner will not live in peace with the party baptized after their marriage. The subsequently baptized party should be allowed to form a new marriage bond. It is called Pauline because it is derived from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

2. Petrine Privilege—by the Pope

A baptized non-Catholic person and an unbaptized person were married and subsequently civilly divorced. The unbaptized person now wants to marry a Catholic. The first marriage could not have been sacramental because one party was unbaptized. No “dispensation” would have been given because no Catholic party was involved. It is, however, considered a “natural marriage” which can be dissolved by the pope if certain requirements are met. Most important here is that the Petitioner, or the Catholic party, was not the cause of the failure of the first marriage. The breakup must have chiefly resulted from the actions of the spouse left behind. This is a complex proof matter and more expensive because the Vatican has a fixed processing fee which is greater than the charge for a formal case.

3. Non-consummated Marriage—by the Pope

If it can be established that the parties never had sexual intercourse of the type apt for the procreation of children after they entered marriage, the marriage can be dissolved by the pope. This does not include people who merely used birth control after the marriage. It does include people who had sexual intercourse before the marriage but never after the marriage—“they went through the ceremony just to give the child a name.” Problems here will be proof problems. Independent corroboration that the parties could not have had sexual intercourse after the marriage may be difficult to secure. Vatican established fees are required.


A challenge to the validity of a marriage by one of the parties to that marriage. The challenging party files a Petition (Libellus) which is then evaluated in light of evidence gathered from witnesses and documentary proof which establishes that the marriage was invalid or a nullity on the basis of specific grounds as assigned by the court. The grounds are described in greater detail elsewhere. Most often three judges are assigned to each case.

The underlying rationale for nearly all the grounds is that true consent to the matrimonial vows was not consciously and freely given due to a number of possible circumstances.


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