Mercy continues to inspire the Parramatta Tribunal office, two years after Pope Francis’ 2015 Jubilee Year of Mercy reforms of the annulment process, entitled Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge.
These changes further reach out to those affected by divorce and at risk of feeling distant from the Church. In some instances the process will be faster but still protect the indissolubility of the marital bond.
The Parramatta Tribunal was established in 1986 by Bishop Robert McGuckin, who was the Judicial Vicar of the newly established Catholic Diocese of Parramatta and Paula Kerr, who had been working for the Tribunal as a volunteer.
Bishop McGuckin, now the Bishop of Toowoomba, has acknowledged Pope Francis’ letter calling upon the Tribunal to be compassionate.
Paula Kerr has been working in the Tribunal for 33 years and is the current Director of the Parramatta office. “It is always a privilege as well as a humbling experience to walk with people as they journey through the annulment process,” Paula said regarding her service.
The dedicated Tribunal team remains stable, with one staff member undertaking the Institute of Tribunal Practice course, which encompasses students from Australia and the South Pacific.
The Diocese of Parramatta has assisted tribunal ministry in Fiji since 2006 when Emeritus Bishop Kevin Manning requested this missionary support. Paula shared her positive experience administering marriage tribunal services in Fiji for these past twelve years.
The importance of human contact for sometimes apprehensive applicants is always emphasised by the Tribunal. The annulment process is an opportunity for healing and offers an invitation to reflect, to forgive and to move forward with reaffirmed faith.
The day-to-day workings of the Tribunal is little understood because of the sensitive nature of the work and the strict adherence to and a respect for the privacy of all applicants.
The Church acknowledges the reality of divorce and a space has been created by the Tribunal to facilitate a search for the truth rather than an allocation of blame. It offers a safe, private and non-judgmental environment.
The Tribunal undertakes a full pastoral investigation when an application is made for an annulment of a marriage. Exploring the nature of a failed relationship can lead to an upheaval of emotions and as a result, some people avoid making an application. This is unfortunate because those who persist with the process and are willing to reconsider their relationship with previous hurts, often feel reconciled with their God and in a better position to make more discerning decisions regarding future relationships.
Marriage is the intimate union of life and love between a man and woman; permanent, exclusive and open to new life, according to the Catholic Church’s divinely authoritative teaching.
When two baptised people marry, free according to law, this is presumed to be valid and binding. Parties are not able to enter a marriage according to the rites of the Catholic Church, without a declaration of nullity; an ‘annulment’. An annulment declares a valid bond of a particular marriage never existed, as understood by the Church.
All people, Catholic or non-Catholic, are free to approach the Tribunal to seek clarification regarding their marital status according to the law of the Catholic Church.
This Christmas, if you are separated, divorced or undergoing marital unrest, we pray that you might consider approaching the Tribunal, which works in the spirit of mercy.
By the Tribunal Team – Paula, Sue, Steven and Deanne
This article first appeared in the December 2017 print edition of Catholic Outlook.
At the request of Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Catholic Outlook was printed in December 2017 to connect the Diocese and showcase the good works across the Diocese’s many agencies and ministries.