The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference National Marriage Tribunal is primarily part of the Church’s juridical system. Its main purpose is to contribute to the pastoral aims of the Church by enabling people to marry in Church that they participate in the sacraments. The Tribunal helps people whose marriages have irreparably broken down due to different circumstances and who at times feel alienated from the Church or who are laden with guilt of conscience. The Tribunal endeavors to help the wounded partners to reconcile with self and to move on with life.
An annulment is a declaration by a Church tribunal [a Catholic Church court] that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union. The National Marriage Tribunal of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference serves to study marriages that have ended in divorce. The goal of these studies is to determine if a particular marriage may be declared invalid according to Canon Law. There are a number of distinct types of annulment procedures in Church law.
Central to the responsibility is proclaiming the sanctity and permanence of marriage. While carefully protecting the teaching of Jesus on marriage and its indissolubility, the Church also recognizes that many marriages today end in the tragedy of divorce. Yet, for many of these people their faith and their Church remain important to them, nor does the Church abandon them.
In its pastoral concern, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference provides an ecclesiastical tribunal whose function is to evaluate the validity of the failed marriage in the light of scripture, tradition, and Church law. In many cases, the tribunal is able to grant a Decree of invalidity [annulment]. This process helps to heal the anger and disappointment with oneself and with one’s former spouse. It often brings closure to the hurtful memories. It frees a person to marry again or to have a second marriage convalidated by the Church, thus restoring the person to the full sacramental life of the Church.
Remembering that the ministry of Jesus was one of healing and reconciliation, the National Marriage Tribunal is ever mindful of its call to continue that ministry to all who seek its help.
However,this process has no civil effect. It does not affect the validity of the civil union, legitimacy of children, custody, property, or other settlements. It does not seek to assign blame or guilt on anyone. It merely ascertains the status of the union according to the laws of the Church. The children remain legitimate.
How does one request an annulment?
A case can be initiated in a number of different ways. The person may reach the Tribunal through a recommendation of his/her parish priest; or through a counselling agency or sometimes by word of mouth of a friend, lawyer or doctor. It is presumed that, when a person approaches the Tribunal, all avenues of reconciliation have been attempted and proven unsuccessful. Before the Tribunal can accept an application the following documents arerequired;a baptism certificate, marriage certificate and a decree of divorce.
Any persons having presented themselves to others as married are presumed to have been married according to Church understanding of marriage. For that reason, any person having been married before must petition to a Church National Marriage Court to have the previous union investigated to see if there is a reason why the exchange of vows did not constitute a valid consent. Divorce in itself is a termination of the “civil union” of the couple; even then, in the Church’s understanding, parties are still married under Divine Law. For this reason, if a divorced person enters into a subsequent civil union, they remove themselves from the Sacraments. Otherwise, a divorced Catholic can continue to receive the Sacraments. Ironically, it is the State court that reaches into the marriage and actually dissolves the marriage by its own authority. The Tribunal studies the marriage and grants annulments.
Once an investigation shows there was not a valid consent according to Church Law, a written decision is issued. NO Church marriage is allowed unless and until a Final Affirmative Decision has been obtained from the marriage tribunal. Since there is no set time for the process and there are no assurances of an affirmative decision, no date can be set in advance for a new Church wedding.
Anyone whowishes to go back to the sacraments after a broken marriage may contact the Marriage Tribunal of the
Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference
29/31 Cnr 4th Selous
Box 738 Causeway
Tel: 04 08644237053