Office of Canonical Services
Diocesan Pastoral Center
PO Box 5147
701 Lawrenceville Road
Trenton, NJ 08638-0147
Rev. Msgr. James G. Innocenzi
Servicios de Canónico/ Tribunal
Judicial Vicar, Rev. Msgr. James G. Innocenzi
Personas que hablan español: Evelyn Aguiar, Nelida Agosto
Número de contacto: 609-406-7411
The Catholic Church believes that marriage is a lifetime exclusive partnership between a man and a woman, in which they give and receive mutual help and love, commit to an exclusive and lifetime union, and from their union bring forth and raise children. When Catholics and Orthodox Christians marry according to the requirements of their respective churches, and when people of other denominations marry anywhere according to the requirements of civil law, the Catholic Church presumes they marry validly. If husband and wife are both baptized, the Church also presumes that their marriage is a sacrament. In the teaching of the Catholic Church a valid marriage that is consummated and a sacrament cannot be set aside by any human power.
Because it is a lifetime commitment, the decision to marry is perhaps the most serious decision most people have to make about their personal lives. So much of the person is invested in this decision, so much is expected in terms of time, energy, emotion and resources, that when a couple marries, divorce is unthinkable. Yet the unthinkable has happened to so many couples, and the reality of divorce is so full of stress and pain, that the Catholic Church seeks to reach out to divorced people in an effort to help heal the wounds while supporting the permanence of a sacramental union.
In its effort to assist the divorced, the Church considers whether the marriage now broken lacked one or more of the elements of a valid, sacramental, consummated marriage. If the evidence shows that it was not valid, the Church declares that the marriage never had the binding force that characterizes marriage. If it was not consummated or was never a sacrament, the Church can dispense from the bond of marriage.
Ordinarily one seeks and obtains such decisions through the Office of the Tribunal. The Tribunal is a church court set up in a diocese to assist the bishop in giving timely judgment to individuals who request it. While empowered to consider other types of cases, the tribunal most frequently deals with petitions for the church annulment or dissolution of marriages that ended in divorce.
In studying and deciding these petitions, the tribunal seeks only the spiritual good of the people involved. It makes no attempt to place blame for the breakup of the union. There are no civil effects to its decision. It does not make children illegitimate. It cannot question a child's paternity. It cannot influence a civil court to set or change terms of civil divorce, child custody and support or property settlement. If a marriage is declared null or dispensed, both spouses then are free to marry someone in the Catholic Church. As a result of that freedom the Catholic spouse or spouses in a new union are enabled to participate fully in the life of their Church.
Each request is as unique as the persons who entered the marriage. While no one can be guaranteed an affirmative decision in advance, a person who thinks his or her marriage was defective from the beginning should be encouraged to request the study of that marriage. Many have already received justice through this process. At times people express the fear of reopening old wounds and hurts by going through a church process of nullity or dissolution. Yet the deeper self-understanding that can come from an honest and searching study of one's broken marriage can heal these wounds and hurts much more profoundly, and provide part of the solid foundation for a lasting and successful marriage in the future.