The Catholic Church does not have the authority to dissolve a marriage but can issue a Declaration of Annulity if it believes that what was thought to be a marriage, was not.
Judicial Vicar Fr Joseph Harris CSSp made this clear in his presentation at last weekend’s New Beginnings 20th anniversary conference at Holy Faith Convent, Couva.
Cherish your life, God loves you was the theme of the two-day conference organised by the Separated, Divorced and Widowed Ministry of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission.
Fr Harris, who chairs the Metropolitan Tribunal, said in order to fully understand annulment, which some people have termed a “Catholic divorce”, one must first understand marriage. The title of his talk was “Annulment – A question many Catholics want to understand”.
|Participants at the conference
|Retired judge Monica Barnes who spoke at the conference and Wilfred and Kay Holder of the AFLC
He said marriage is a vocation of two people who come together for their mutual good and for procreation. A successful marriage must contain dimensions of God’s love, like faithfulness, forgiveness and fruitfulness.
“Marriage is always a work in progress,” Fr Harris said, with three intentions: to build each other up, to work together, and to have and educate children. If any one or two of these intentions do not exist, the Church says there never was a marriage, explained the Spiritan priest.
Fr Harris outlined the procedure, and said during the investigation he asks three basic questions: Did the couple intend to build a relationship in every aspect of their lives?
Was there legal (18 years and over) and human capability (physical, intellectual and psychological) to make an informed decision about marriage?
Was there any addiction or immaturity to impede the ability of either party to fulfil the marriage?
Fr Harris stressed these conditions must have existed and be proven to have existed before the marriage.
An annulment can only be applied for after the couple goes through a legal divorce. If the annulment is granted the Church automatically appeals the decision and the file is sent to the Tribunal in Jamaica for adjudication. If the annulment is not granted Jamaica can reverse the decision but it goes to Rome for final adjudication.
Fr Harris spoke November 15, day one of the conference; other speakers that day were Wendy Cezair – “History of New Beginnings for Separated, Divorced and Widowed”; Dolores Gervais and her son Kent – “Divorce is a shattering experience”; Sr Paul d’Ornellas, SJC – “Cherish your life, God loves you”, which was followed by workshop and group sharing; and retired judge Monica Barnes – “Marriage, Divorce and the Law”.
Speakers on day two (November 16) were Kenneth Kong Ting – “From a Man’s Perspective”; Grace Scott – “A widow’s sharing”; and guest speaker Florence Panday of Suriname.
Following a discussion period titled “And how will the journey continue”, the conference closed with a concelebrated Mass with Vicar for Family Life Fr Robert Llanos and Fr Wilfred John. Fr Llanos was the chief celebrant.