Tribunal Glossary

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Acts of the Case
A collection of all testimonies and documents provided in order for a judgment to be reached by a court.

Provides canonical advice to the parties of a case after reviewing materials submitted to the court, and also may submit a legal brief on behalf of her/his party regarding the validity of the marriage bond. Advocates are available at no additional cost.

Occurs in two ways: first, a formal appeal in which a party disagrees with the decision of the first instance court and wishes to begin a new trial either in the appeals (second instance) court for the Diocese of Phoenix, or to the Roman Rota; the other appeal occurs when the decision of the first instance court is confirmed by the second instance court, the court that reviews the prior decision and assures that all procedural norms were followed and all rights respected in the process.

The impartial court official that collects all necessary documents for the case, and may supplement the acts of the case with further questioning of parties and witnesses.


Canonical Form of Marriage
Sacred rituals of marriage are required to be followed by Catholics and those marrying them. This procedure includes adherence to the following stipulations: The consent of the parties must be received by a Catholic Priest or a deacon delegated to celebrate the sacrament; two authorized witness must be present; a Catholic marriage must be celebrated in a parish church or, with permission, may be celebrated at another location. If one of the elements is missing, it is a lack of form and if the form is not followed it is an absence of form.

Canon Law
The body of regulations that guides the Catholic Church universal. Each Catholic has a duty to follow the laws in accord with his or her state of life (clergy, religious, laity) in order to maintain full communion with the church. Most laws are found within the Code of Canon Law, although additional laws can and have been promulgated, or issued, by the Pope, by other properly delegated congregations or councils in Rome, by bishops conferences, or even by diocesan bishops.

Collegiate Court
Consists of at least 3 judges, 2 of whom must be priests or deacons; a sole judge, a single cleric, may also adjudicate a case.

A court must have jurisdiction in order to hear a case, and if the court does not have the power to hear a case, it renders the decision invalid. There are four ways in which a tribunal can have competency: the place of domicile of the Respondent, the place of domicile of the Petitioner, the place where the contract was rendered, or the place where most proofs will be collected.

At a wedding ceremony, a man and a woman exchange all of the rights and duties that are necessary for a marriage to be valid: procreation and education of children, fidelity, permanence, and to seek the general good for their spouse. Both parties are to be competent, mature, have knowledge about the qualities of their spouse that creates a harmonious partnership, and intend to live out a faithful commitment until death.

When a couple marries, they are entering into a contract and a covenant that entails a partnership of the whole of life, the exchanging of an honest and open relationship on a daily basis for life.

A couple who had entered into a civil union of marriage must return to full communion with the church; therefore, both may contract a new act of marital consent within the proper setting and within the correct canonical form in the church. THIS IS NOT A BLESSING! The actual wedding date of the parties is the date of the convalidation. Not understanding that this is a true marriage, and not just a blessing, can invalidate the convalidation.

Court Expert
An expert in a particular field may be chosen by a judge in order to provide some assessment regarding an issue in the case, but the expert does not contribute in any way towards providing any kind of judgment regarding the decision.


Declaration of Nullity
Issued by a competent court, rendering an affirmative decision regarding the nullity of a marriage bond, meaning the court has moral certainty that the marriage between the parties is invalid. The decision must be reviewed by a second instance court, and granted an affirmative by both first and second instance courts.

Defect of Canonical Form
Although the proper form of marriage was used, there was an element missing. This occurs most often when someone has not been properly delegated to witness a marriage.

Defect of Consent
An element of intention was missing at the time the consent was given by one or both parties. The defect is defined by a ground of nullity, devised from hundreds of years of canonical practice, philosophies of the will, and elements of human psychology. A defect of consent can lead to the invalidity of a marriage.

Defender of the Bond
The party who reviews the acts of the case and argues for the merits of the marriage bond, who presents observations to argue for the validity of the consent. They also ensure that all procedural law has been properly followed within the case.

A priest or deacon must have the power to witness a marriage, as granted either by his office or by the bishop. For example, a bishop or pastor may have the power by virtue of his office, but a parish priest or a visiting cleric must obtain delegation from the bishop or pastor in order to witness the exchange of consent.

The ability to have a true understanding regarding what marriage will entail with a certain person. There must be a certain level of maturity, commitment, and understanding of what marriage is and what is necessary to live out such a relationship.

Disparity of Cult
An impediment in the Catholic Church, binding all Catholics and those who wish to marry a Catholic. A priest may not witness the marriage of a Catholic party to a NON-BAPTIZED party without obtaining a dispensation from the diocesan bishop or local ordinary under pain of nullity.

A "relaxation" of an ecclesiastical law for a just cause.

Divine Law
That which has been instituted by the Lord, and cannot be altered by any human power, e.g. marriage consists of one man and one woman.

Documentary Process
Such a process is used for a lack of form where although the Petitioner plays a somewhat active role in the process, their role is limited; the validity is questioned on the basis of certain documents.

Where a party lives on a permanent basis, necessary to determine competency, determined by parish boundaries, the area of the diocese, or the territory of the episcopal conference.


Ends of Marriage
By its nature, marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children, but also towards the good of spouses and toward the partnership of the whole of life. These are elements of all marriages, and if one should exclude these elements from consent, the marriage is invalid, e.g. a childless marriage is considered valid unless it is proven that one or both parties excluded such a good from his or her marriage.


First Instance Court
The initial court hearing the case first, such as the Tribunal of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Formal Case
When a libellus is accepted for a case to be considered for a declaration of nullity, and it has been determined that a full trial is to be carried out on the basis of a defect of consent, a formal case must be carried out.


Grounds of Nullity
A "ground" is the act of the intellect or the will upon which a court declares the bond to be null. A ground is based upon the interplay of the intellect and will at the moment of consent, rooted in medieval philosophy and canon law. There are defects of consent related to the intellect (consent is flawed because the intellect is misinformed) and defects of consent related to the will.


A legal fact that renders a marriage invalid - for example, Prior Bond, Disparity of Cult.


A priest, deacon or layperson appointed to adjudicate in ecclesiastical court. A judge must have a degree in canon law, unless permission is granted by the Holy See.

Judicial Vicar
A priest appointed by the bishop to serve as the one who is entrusted with the good order of the diocesan tribunal. A judicial vicar must have at least a JCL.

Legal power necessary in order to perform an act of governance, e.g. granting a dispensation.


Legitimacy of children
A declaration of nullity does not mean in any way that the children of the marriage are illegitimate. The children were born out of a relationship that was believed to be valid at the time of consent, and are a gift from God. The declaration of nullity deals only with the marriage itself.

The legal document, or petition, that begins the process with the court, submitted to the tribunal in order for the case to be considered.

Licentiate in Canon Law
The graduate degree (JCL) necessary in order to practice canon law, obtained through an ecclesiastical school of canon law.


Mixed Marriage
Mixed Marriage involves the union of a baptized Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic. In such situations, the Catholic party is to declare that he/she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his/her power to have all children baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith. The non-Catholic party must be made aware of the promises that the Catholic party is bound to and fully understand the ramifications.


Member of the Tribunal staff appointed to record and certify the acts of the case.


Parties of the case
Those whose case is being adjudicated: the Petitioner, the Respondent, and the Defender of the Bond, as the one defending the possibly validity of the marriage bond.

The party who approaches the tribunal with his/her libellus, therefore initiating the process.

Pauline Privilege
This is applied when two unbaptized people get married, and later one of the spouses chooses to get baptized, and the unbaptized party departs. If there is no given cause to depart on the part of the one baptized, i.e. the baptized party is not the reason for the ending of the marriage, then the baptized party is free to enter into marriage with another party. The new marriage to the new party will dissolve the first marriage. The departure is affirmed after a series of interpellations; the non-baptized must be asked if they wish to receive baptism and if they wish to at least cohabit in peace without affront to the Creator. The conditions under which it can be applied are when the other party responded negatively to the interpellations, or after a period of cohabitation, departed for a just cause.

Petrine Privilege
This is a request to the Holy Father to dissolve a marriage between a baptized and an unbaptized person, or two unbaptized persons (a non-sacramental marriage). This process is now governed by the CDF, who recommends the dissolution of a marriage to the Roman Pontiff.

Prior Bond
A previous marriage impedes a party from entering into another marriage. A prior marriage, natural or sacramental, invalidates all subsequent marriages.


When a case is decided in first instance, and the decision is an affirmative, the acts of the case must then be forwarded to the appeal (second instance) court for that diocese, to ensure that all procedures have been followed.

A Petitioner may decide to terminate a case. This desire is made known to the advocate, who then will contact the Tribunal in order to end the case. The Petitioner may decide to submit the case again at a later date.

The other party in the case, the one who did not approach the tribunal. Although this party did not initiate the case, procedural law still provides the right of defense for the party to participate in the process. Even if the party wishes not to participate, the law still admits for the party to be represented by an Advocate, and to be informed about the decision.

Roman Rota
the highest court in the Church.


"healing in the root" - radical sanation makes the validity of a marriage retroactive to its beginning, and is a convalidation without the renewal of consent. It is granted if a dispensation for an impediment or a dispensation from canonical form was not obtained. It is granted only if it is evident that the consent perdures and if any impediments have ceased. The diocesan bishop can grant it if the dispensation is not required from the Apostolic See.

The explanation of the decision made in the case, which must be ratified by the appellate court.

A party freely enters a marriage without the intention to exchange free and full consent, i.e. they intentionally lie when stating their marriage vows. As one of the grounds for marriage, it can be total simulation (not intended marriage at all) or partial simulation, i.e. excluding one of the essential elements of marriage (e.g. children, fidelity, sacramentality, the good of the other spouse, not intending the celebration and the living out of the sacrament). Indicative actions or statements of one or both parties prove such an act of the will.


The ecclesiastical court of each diocese, led by a judicial vicar.


When all of the acts for a case have been submitted, and the court appointed is collegiate, each judge reviews the acts, and decides whether each ground should receive an affirmative or a negative. The court then discusses the case, bringing their vota, or opinions, with them to the discussion. One judge is appointed ponens, and writes the decision for the case after reviewing all vota and hearing the opinions of the other judges.