In the last eight ti morceaux we’ve touched on all of the common grounds which form the basis of findings of marital invalidity in Tribunal evaluations. As we now move on to consider the process, I want to stress one more time that it is not merely an allegation that some defect exists which is enough: this must be proven by evidence.
Evidence consists primarily of sworn written statements. While the declarations of the parties are most important, it’s also vital to have corroborative input from witnesses. As I’ve mentioned before, the Tribunal offers grounds-specific questionnaires to parties and witnesses to guide them in providing information. In particular, we ask those who know the parties to affirm their credibility, so that the one judging the case can rely on their statements.
Whenever a particular case demands insights of a psychological nature (perhaps to diagnose or at least verify particular emotional difficulties or situations such as severe bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorders), we will refer the party to one of our staff psychologists or other counselors to obtain these. This is not uncommon. And as you might suspect, an “expert” opinion from such a mental-health professional is very, very useful in pinpointing difficulties which – if as-yet unknown and so untreated at the time of consent – can render marital commitment impossible to make.
Every now and then a case revolves around some kind of essential documentary evidence. Catholics, as we all know, must marry “in” the Church for validity, so a merely civil union is usually obvious from the marriage certificate! Sometimes “the paperwork” will reveal a prior valid marriage that actually blocked a new union from coming into existence. Even when the wedding is a Catholic one, there always must be two witnesses in addition to the delegated priest or deacon who officiates: sometimes the premarital file shows that this was not the case. Sometimes proper Church authority must specifically authorize a wedding, or dispense from an invalidating impediment to it; again, the premarital file sometimes reveals that this was not done, although I admit it’s pretty rare.
Once all of the evidence is gathered and seems to be complete, the Tribunal in most cases is required to notify the parties of this, giving them the opportunity to review and verify that we have all of the input that they wish to provide. Then the “evidence-gathering” stage of the evaluation is concluded, and the Tribunal moves on to its final decision. More about that next time!