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Grounds for Nullity The Catholic Church presumes a person contracted a valid marriage unless the evidence completely proves otherwise.

“The process is just about determining whether a [valid act of marrying] occurred at that moment [when the ceremony took place],” he said.We have to distinguish between a capacity-consent issue and just simple moral failing.” The Parish Phase The parish is the first point of contact in the annulment process, and it’s where many involved in ministry to divorced persons say a parish advocate can be crucial to preparing the facts for the application.In the last five years of his diaconate, Deacon O’Toole has helped 25 people who have come through his office obtain a declaration of nullity from the Church.“It’s one of the safeguards the process puts in there to make sure there is adequate argumentation for [the marriage bond],” Nguyen said, adding that, sometimes, both parties want the annulment.He was once the defender of the bond for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and, at times, the tribunal upheld the validity of the marriage in question because his arguments showed it was truly valid. If the majority of the judges of the case vote in favor of a declaration of nullity, then the presiding judge, called the lays out the issue and cites the applicable canon law and jurisprudence of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the Roman appeals court for marriage cases), before giving the judgment. Nguyen said that in the case of an affirmative decision, an appellate tribunal in another diocese does an entire review of the case before voting on it.The most recent Vatican clarification of the law was the 2005 instruction .

These cases can involve things such as whether mental illness, sexual abuse, traumas or addiction to drugs, alcohol or sex render a person incapable to consent to or live out marriage.Deacon O’Toole has four current cases pending before the tribunal and said it is a “lengthy process” — on average, nearly a year from start to finish in his diocese.However, the heavy lifting of thoroughly preparing the application for the tribunal takes about four-six weeks from the day people first sit in his office.“They have to let the other side know that this request has been made about the marriage,” he said. The second phase is the tribunal’s evidentiary period, where witnesses are found and depositions are taken.The tribunal makes the evidence available for review by both parties and their canon lawyers, who can submit their rebuttals.[Updated July 24; see editors' note and corrections at article's end.] CHICAGO — Deacon Patrick O’Toole remembered how far away he felt from the Church 17 years ago.