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What Every Respondent Needs to Know About the Annulment Process
Respondents must learn to challenge Catholic annulment with the tools that the U.S. tribunals use. The following is a step-by-step description of the annulment process for the Respondent. It is based on our cumulative experience working with Respondents; nearly forty years of experience.
SOS Support Network
We are a group, a community of individuals from across the U.S., Canada, Europe and beyond. We have formed a Board of Directors and Advisors. We work with and support Respondents as they deal with, and ‘translate’, the foreign (Latin) process of annulment. Our mission and purpose is to share with Respondents what we have learned the hard way without help from the tribunal system. This work is supplemented by Carole R. Bishop's found in her SOS Respondent's Guide to the Annulment Process (See that separate Webpage.)
Our purpose is to empower Respondents to progress more easily through the annulment labyrinth with resilience, as they protect their marriage sacrament from the manipulative practices of U.S. tribunals; to successfully “save their sacrament”.
Before You Meet with any Tribunal Personnel
If you read the following two books you will have a solid foundation for understanding the annulment process, and you will also have more specific questions. These questions can be discussed directly with one of the SOS advisors (see the SOS Contact page). All help is voluntary; here is no charge for our service.
Two books are especially recommended by SOS:
- Shattered Faith: A Woman's Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage by Sheila Rauch Kennedy
- The SOS Respondent’s Guide to Catholic Annulments by Carole R. Bishop
Contents of this “What Every Respondent Need to Know” webpage
I. IMPORTANT DEFINITIONS
Respondent The person in an annulment proceeding against whom a petition for annulment has been issued, who then chooses to defend the sacramental validity of the marriage
Petitioner The Respondent’s ‘spouse’ who petitions the marriage tribunal to declare the marriage sacrament “null” (invalid /never existed)
The Code of Canon Lawis the ‘law-book’ of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such, contains the rules by which the annulment process is defined. Under Canon Law, your marriage is supposed to be presumed valid at the beginning of an annulment process (Canon Law c.1060 & Canon 1585). Under these rules the Roman Rota states that the validity of your marriage is to be upheld until it is proven otherwise. You, the Respondent, should not have to prove anything. By Roman Catholic Church law, it is the petitioner who 'bears the burden of proof’ regarding what is contained in the Petition. But U.S. tribunals inconveniently disregard this mandate on petitioners, and instead are biased against Respondents.
Advocate A tribunal official appointed to direct and speak
for either the petitioner or the Respondent during the First
Instance Court process (ref. Canon Law #1483)
According to Canon Law 1603, advocates must share their briefs with both parties before submitting the findings to a tribunal judge, but SOS has not seen that right carried out in fact.
Opposite to the U.S. court system, an advocate is not like a civil lawyer:
- There is no guarantee of confidentiality when talking to your advocate
- Anything your advocate learns, especially if it is negative about you and the marriage, becomes material that is communicated to others in the tribunal in order to annul the marriage.
- The tribunal pays his salary.
Procurator (not the same as an Advocate) A tribunal agent
with power of attorney, who is supposed to be neutral but is paid
by the tribunal. (The procurator is not obligated to communicate
with the Respondent.) The tribunal usually urges you to designate
that your advocate also serve as your procurator. By agreeing to
have an Advocate-Procurator, you will relinquish all rights of
decision making during the annulment process.
If you wish to retain your rights regarding decision-making, SOS recommends that you put in writing your intention to have only an advocate, so that the advocate will be required to keep you informed of all the proceedings. But you must hold him to that right.
Libellus (different from the petitioner’s Questionnaire responses) the petitioner‘s ‘allegations’ usually about 3 - 5 sentences long, which is later attached to the petition. Canon Law states that the Libellus sentences are supposed to be included with the ‘First Notice’ to the Respondent in order for you to read the reasons stated against the marriage. This document is rarely, if ever, included with that first letter to a Respondent. Most tribunal judges will tenaciously deny your access to a copy of the Libellus. You can write a request to see the allegations, and when you receive the tribunal’s first refusal, make certain that refusal is sent to you in writing. But unless you want to spend years fighting them in their ‘court’ to accord you this right (we know of cases where this has happened), simply plan to document this “procedural error” by including their letter of refusal later in your Appeal. (see Reference #2 in Section 9 below.)
Tribunal Competency (Canon #1673) the locale or “venue” of the tribunal where your annulment case will take place: either a) where the petitioner lives, or b) where you live, or c) where the marriage took place, or d) where the majority of the evidence is located (i.e. where most of the witnesses live). While you should have equal say in which venue to hold the process, almost always the tribunal gives that right to the petitioner.
First Instance Court is the diocesan, or ‘local’, tribunal; this lower-court tribunal decides the first phase of an annulment
Grave lack of Due Discretion The most common reason in Canon Law for declaring an annulment is for a “GRAVE lack of due discretion”. But most U.S. annulments are NOT based on any such “grave lack”. They are based on a common ordinary ‘lack of due discretion’, which is experienced in EVERY marriage throughout the world (and every priest’s ordination). Ask your Advocate to define “grave lack”. Consider including this fact in your Questionnaire Responses.
Second Instance Court Respondents are told by the diocesan/
local court to send their Appeal to this Regional Court which is
usually located in the same state as the local, First Instance
Court. Instead, if your marriage has been annulled by the First
Instance Court, SOS strongly recommends that you mail your Appeal
directly to the Vatican Rota in Rome, as the Second Instance
Recent changes in the annulment process (2015) propose that the Appeal is preferred to be held in the state. SOS continues to recommend, firmly, that the Roman Rota be chosen as the Second Instance Court.
[A comprehensive list of annulment-related definitions and further information on writing your Questionnaire Responses is contained in the SOS Respondent’s Guide.]
Before You Begin: Two Primary Questions to Ask Yourself about this Process
There Are Many Questions
Can I spend the necessary time that is demanded by this process? Do I have the energy for the work this will take? Can I write only positive aspects in the questions demanded by the Tribunal? What impact will this proceeding have on my children? If I do not take on this challenge, will my children lose an opportunity to learn to confront injustice with dignity, fortitude, and strength? Do I have the patience to unpack Canon Law legalese? Can I deal with the possibility that after reading the petitioner’s witness statements the loss of family and friends may result? But the two most important questions, regarding whether or not to choose to take on the annulment process are the following:
1. If you were to choose to challenge/ fight the tribunal system, list every reason you can think of why that would be beneficial to you? &
2. If you were to choose NOT to fight the tribunal system, list every reason you can think of why that would be beneficial to you?
(For more information about this, see the SOS Webpage Annulment/ Two Choices)
II. Basic Steps of the Annulment Process (in chronological order)
1. FIRST NOTICE (the “Summons”)
Very often, Respondents have no warning that the annulment ‘inquisition’ is about to begin. Often, the Respondent’s first contact about this process is a vague letter from the Diocesan tribunal. This Summons letter asks if you wish to participate in the case either by interview at the tribunal or a written questionnaire. You must decide now whether or not to contest the annulment. If the Respondent does not agree to take part, the local Court will find in favor of the petitioner and annul the sacrament. And SOS firmly recommends that the Respondent write the Questionnaire Responses. A verbal interview is more likely to be twisted negatively.
Where the case will be held (Tribunal competency) You have the right to request the location where the case will be heard. (See the SOS Respondent’s Guide for more information.)
Deadlines The tribunal will state you have “30 days” to complete the Questionnaire. Do not feel pressured to meet their deadlines: a simple letter explaining why you want an extension of time will be sufficient to gain this extra time. [See below.]
Keep copies Whenever you send documents to the tribunal, number each page (ex: page 1 of __ (total number of pages)__. Always keep a copy. Mail all correspondence to the tribunal and Rota by registered or certified mail, so they can never say "that material was lost".
Letters You May Need to Write
It will be to your benefit that you write letters as professionally as possible. Because one elicits more ‘positives’ with honey than with vinegar, SOS recommends when writing letters to tribunal-related offices, you put aside any anger or indignation. Reminder: send all correspondence by registered or certified mail.
1. Letter declining that your advocate also serve as procurator: Write to the tribunal judge that you wish to retain all rights of decision-making and that you decline to have your advocate also serve as the procurator.
2. Letter requesting the Libellus:
Most Respondents choose not to complicate their case by carrying
this too far. If you decide to request the Libellus, do so in just
a few sentences, asking for a copy of the petitioner’s allegations
written in his or her own words, and refer to Canon 1508.2 which
states: “The Libellus … is to be attached to the citation unless
for grave causes the judge determines that the Libellus must not be
made known to the party before that party makes a deposition in the
Be sure to include that you want their response to your request in writing.
3. Letter requesting an extension of time: (usually for completion of your Questionnaire, but also for the Appeal) Write your request briefly (about three sentences), explaining why you need more time. You could thank them ‘in advance’ for the extension.
2. Research the Advocate An Advocate is supposed to be
assigned to the Respondent . While the advocate may state that s/he
is “only interested in the truth”, it is likely that the advocate
has been trained to have a pro-annulment bias. Bear in mind that
the Advocate’s primary obligation and responsibility is to the
tribunal which pays their salary. Women-advocates (usually nuns)
are just as likely as the men to be authoritative, rather than
compassionate and understanding.
You can take some control of the annulment process. We recommend that you Google your diocesan tribunal website in order to access information about their advocates. Make an appointment to meet with individuals you’d like to consider. Then write your request to the tribunal judge for the advocate with whom you wish to work.
A SOS founder requested that the advocate assigned to her be changed to another advocate, who was by far a better advocate.
Can you trust the
Advocate to be helpful to you?
An honest advocate told us they "do not offer information"
(for example, what your rights are) unless you
SOS was founded so that you have access to answers without having to guess the right question to ask.
Become Your Own Best Advocate You must educate yourself in order to successfully find your way through the annulment morass. This SOS website offers the only information especially offered for Respondents.
3. The QUESTIONNAIRE
In order to establish the “Grounds” for an annulment, the tribunal uses the Petition and the Questionnaire answers from both the Petitioner and the Respondent. In effect, it is a "he said" / "she said" form of decision-making. Whose Responses do you think the 'celibate' tribunal priests favor?
"Grave Lack of Due
Discretion” (Canon 1095.2) is the usual basis on which tribunal
judges SHOULD annul marriages. But tribunal priests accept any
reason in the Petition to annul.
SOS recommends that you read Canon Law 1095.2 before you begin your responses to the Questionnaire, and then include a copy of this Canon somewhere clearly in your responses to the Questionnaire. This serves as a reminder to the tribunal judges that they must find grave lack of due discretion in the marriage. (See the Respondent’s Guide for the exact wording of this Canon.) And ask your Advocate to define “grave lack”.
Writing Your Questionnaire Responses / Make
the tribunal’s Questionnaire work for you
Local tribunals offer a choice between a 1:1 interview with a judge or a written questionnaire. Writing your responses to the questionnaire gives you better control over your material. Do not limit your answers to the small space on the Questionnaire pages and instead use as many separate pages as you need. And if a question is extremely invasive, you do NOT have to answer it.
Many of the questions seem designed to ‘prove’ the marriage was faulty. Instead write the facts that are helpful to proving validity of the marriage sacrament.
Focus on the MATURITY of both spouses, PRIOR TO AND DURING the wedding vows.
Write specific examples (proofs) that both of you were mature, responsible individuals who understood the marriage commitment.
A key factor that the tribunal looks to demonstrate a ‘sacramental validity’ demonstrated by “maturity”. For example if, during the courtship, you both had discussed wanting to parent children. And at the moment of your vows you BOTH planned to have children during the marriage. So focus on the positive parenting experiences of both you and your ex; as many as you can think of, to show you both took the commitment to raising children very seriously.
The questionnaire is where you show that there were no GRAVE negative aspects present during the courtship and at the “moment of the vows”. This is the most important focus of your responses to the questionnaire, because an annulment is based on the couple’s intention / state of mind on the day of the marriage. Spend most of your writing time focusing on just before, and at the time you spoke your vows. From the Rota’s perspective, anything that happened in the marriage after that ‘moment’ is secondary to determining validity of your marriage. (Test this for yourself: Ask your Advocate how much value the tribunal judges place on the ‘moment of the vows’ vs the later years of the marriage.)
Take the following advice
VERY seriously: Keep your Questionnaire
narrative positive. Anything negative you write or say could and
will be used against you and the marriage by tribunal personnel.
Do not vent anger in any way, not at the ex-spouse, nor at
the tribunal and ‘policies’ you may disagree with. Maintain
a professional attitude; be concise, don't ramble or add extraneous
information. Write your Questionnaire narrative in a way that
reflects only the positives, reflect God’s ‘grace’ in your
But you certainly can, and we encourage you to, write about the local tribunal's incompetence or bad attitude toward you in your Appeal. The Roman Rota is interested.
Either in a cover letter or toward the end of
your Questionnaire Response write your intent to file an Appeal to
the Rota, if that becomes necessary.
As the number of Respondent-challenges to the tribunal’s decisions increase, via an Appeal to Rome and letters to the Nuncio (see below), U.S. diocesan tribunal judges are beginning to stop granting unjust and unwarranted annulments. (Refer to the Appeal section below.)
And a letter to the Pope about your experiences could be helpful to Respondents new to the process.
A few primary points AFTER you read the "Questionnaire" section in the "What Every..." Page on our SOS website. Also read those sections in the "Respondent's Guide" Page.
To repeat- the entire annulment process is based on whether you BOTH were prepared for marriage "at the moment of the vows". So you must cite examples of BOTH your and your ex's MATURITY at that moment and during the courtship leading up to that 'moment'.
- Write NOTING negative about the ex., the marriage or yourself
- Do give specific examples of maturity and wanting children, as well as specific examples of your parenting
- Remember also, everything you write will be read by 'celibate' men. Write only details that have to do with proving your marriage IS a sacrament. They do NOT care at all about the details of, for example, what your wedding looked like.
- Do cite specific examples of good parenting ESPECIALLY regarding Church activities (CCD, communion. confirmation, etc.) The longer your marriage the more examples you have as proof of your sacrament.
- Remember also that what you write will be read by men who have nothing better to do than look for some details about your sex life. You have NO OBLIGATION to write any response to their questions that are none of their business to know or read. You have the right to choose to ignore whatever questions you find invasive on your privacy, without giving any explanation. Again, it is NONE of their business.
If you wish to write something in response to such questions (usually about sex) simply paraphrase this suggestion: "This question has nothing to do with the 'moment of the vows' on which the annulment is to be based'.
Once you are certain your Responses contain the above advice, then let us know if you would like a preview of what you have written before you send your Questionnaire Responses to the tribunal.
4. Psychological / Medical Records
Never allow tribunal judges to have any material that could possibly be interpreted negatively against you and the marriage. Third parties such as tribunal judges have NO RIGHT to confidential material about your life. And you are under no moral obligation to release information that could used against you and the marriage. Do not hand them anything they can use against you. Try to keep in mind that if there is information you would not share with your grocer you should not think the tribunal has ANY right to know that information.
(Also remember that the tribunal secretaries see and read the information that comes into that office; do they take any vow of confidentiality?)
A question typically contained in the Questionnaire states: ‘I am willing to make all of my medical and psychological records available to the tribunal.’ The reality is that there is no other reason for this question to be asked, except to use this information against you and the marriage. One of the SOS founders has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and has seen psychological records written ambiguously and open to biased interpretation. Tribunal personnel are abysmally untrained in psychology or interpretation of psyc reordsl.
Do notify any couple-counselor whom you both may have seen, to not release any records, even if the petitioner gives permission to do so.
Write a letter to the tribunal, that any release of counseling information for couples, requires BOTH signatures, and you do NOT give your permission. If the petitioner supplies the tribunal with records that you have not given permission to be released, this can be key evidence for a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against therapist-members of a tribunal, especially lay therapists. (See the SOS Webpage Getting Your Power Back / How to use HIPPA Guidelines.)
With enough proof that tribunals have used Respondent's counseling records inappropriately or without permission, a collective Class Action lawsuit is a possibility.
Keep a Timeline for efficient documentation of your facts in a notebook designated for your annulment material. This includes a chronological account of every phone call and communication written to you from the tribunal and by you, in the order as sent or received. The notebook material will be especially helpful if you later choose to pursue an Appeal to the Rota. Designate a notebook section specifically for “Procedural Errors” done by anyone in the tribunal.
5. YOUR WITNESSES
You have a right to have your truth verified by others who know you. Try to choose individuals who have been friends at the time of your wedding. Let them know that the most important information that the tribunal judge must consider is the time-frame during the courtship including the “moment of your vows”.
Tell your witnesses that their purpose is to
help you defend your marriage by providing examples from their past
observations that highlight the validity of your marriage
sacrament. Tell them the Grounds for the annulment.
As they write their testimony in their own words, remind them to keep it positive, focusing on the best aspects (the ‘grace’) of the sacrament that they observed in your marriage.
Let your witnesses know the importance of describing specific facts about BOTH you and the petitioner as mature, honest, capable people who knew what marriage entailed, and if both of you spoke about and planned to have children.
Before Your Witnesses send in their letters
to the tribunal, we recommend that you let your witnesses know that
you welcome reading their letter first. Tribunal personnel do not
encourage this, but in reality, tribunal judges have no power to
enforce any pressure on your friends.
Remember, the power of tribunals and tribunal judges is an ‘assumed’ power, unlike that of civil authority, and therefore nonexistent if an individual does not give them that power.
6. Reading the Petitioner’s
Petition & Questionnaire Responses(the
You will not be allowed to read the petitioner’s questionnaire responses until after you have submitted your own. The length of time between submitting your questionnaire and reading the petitioner’s Questionnaire responses could be months, unless the tribunal personnel are competent and efficient.
“Under Duress”: Before you read the Petition, it is likely you will be told that you must sign a statement promising to keep all annulment materials “confidential”, including the Petition, or you would not be allowed to read the Petition. Any policy of secrecy enables abuse; you have a moral right to not ‘obey’ this manipulative demand. Consider adding the words “under duress” when signing that statement. We did.
As you read this material in the tribunal building, you have a right to take notes. It is important to keep a record of anything you disagree with, and may want to include in your rebuttal. Note also, anything in the petitioner’s material that supports your defense of the sacrament. Recently a tribunal in Minnesota allowed a Respondent to bring in his laptop allowing him to type notes while reading the Petition.
Many Respondents we have worked with, have
expressed shock and dismay by what they read in the petitioner’s
Questionnaire material. They have read outrageously
misrepresentations and blatant lies about themselves, their
marriage, the circumstances of their lives together, and the
Respondent’s parents and family. If there is any chance that the
petitioner would do the latter, it is a good idea to include in
your Appeal packet copies of letters your ex wrote during the
Courtship, a photo of you as a happy couple, and your parents happy
together. This will go a long way to disputing anything the
petitioner writes negatively about you as a couple and about your
Because so many petitioners often write outlandishly negatives against their ex spouse, it is a safe assumption that this behavior is encouraged by U.S. tribunal personnel.
7. Petitioner’s Witnesses Statements At the same time that you read the Petition and Responses you should be given the opportunity to read the petitioner’s witness statements, unless they checked the box that says you can’t. Here too, it is likely that you will read mistruth. Individuals you once considered friends and family (in-laws) are likely to be reflected in these statements as people you never really knew. The annulment process too often destroys once loving in-law relationships.
8. YOUR REBUTTAL to the Petition & the
petitioner’s Witness Statements
Bring your own writing material (and tape recorder in case you can read the material aloud to yourself).
Very likely your advocate will be in the room with you as you read the Petition and the petitioner’s Questionnaire material. Some tribunals only allow you to verbally state your disagreements with what the petitioner has written. But it is your right as a Respondent to write your own letter of rebuttal. You will write a better rebuttal if you take time at home to discern the important parts of what you have read in the petitioner’s material.This is then included with what your Advocate has written and will present to the First Instance Court.
The Advocate’s assigned task here, is to
write your objections, your rebuttal, to what you are reading.
Reading through many pages of "testimony" can be time consuming and
may require your intense concentration. While you are reading, make
every effort to remain calm. Be positive in your responses.
Anything said in anger will be counter-productive at this time.
If you disagree with anything either the petitioner or his witnesses have written, make certain to verbally or in writing, address and challenge each statement to your Advocate so he can include this ‘correction-of-the-lies-information’ in your Rebuttal Statement (ex. “Mary Smith did not meet us until five years after our wedding. She has no personal knowledge about the courtship and the moment of the vows, and therefore is not a valid witness.”) Speak slowly and clearly in order to make certain the tribunal rep writes your rebuttal completely into the material he is collecting at this time.
Be very specific as you point out every inconsistency and lie in the petitioner’s material. Whenever you can, use the Petitioner's own words to show discrepancies and especially contradictions in the petitioner’s material.
You could ask to read over
what the tribunal rep. in the room with you
wrote before you leave the room.
It is unlikely that you will receive a copy of the Petition or a copy of what the Advocate wrote. But you have the right to ask.
We know of one rare Advocate who did give a copy of the Petition to the Respondent, but that was in Canada.
Taking Your Own Control: An example of this could be requesting a copy of the resulting “First Instance Court” decision. This is important for your own records. Have a hard copy of the final decision is a matter of your own integrity and dignity. The more often you put yourself in a position of self-control during this process, the sooner U.S. tribunals will learn to respect Respondents, if begrudgingly.
9. If You Experience Incompetence or
Mistreatment by Tribunal Personnel
The RCChurch tribunal annulment process, by design, is based on secrecy and is intended to be deliberately confusing to Respondents. This can lead to mistrust by not only the Respondent also by tribunal personnel! The emotionally unnerving effect of the annulment process on you, your children, and other family members necessitates that you gather supportive friendships you can trust as you deal with this issue. SOS is willing to be a part of your support.
The Nuncio is the Vatican’s “ambassador” between the U.S. and the Rota, with an office in Washington DC. He is usually Italian-born and so has a better perspective than U.S. tribunals. If you encounter an issue about being treated fairly by the local tribunal and you feel totally blocked in being able to defend your sacrament during the annulment proceedings, you can write a letter to the Papal Nuncio.
But this "big stick" is not to be used unless it is absolutely necessary.
The Nuncio usually reviews your letter and makes note of your
concerns to the local tribunal. Being approached by the Nuncio
on your behalf has startled more than a few tribunal personnel.
Several SOS Respondents have found that the Nuncio included a
copy of their letter along with his own letter to the
Bishop-Moderator of the diocesan tribunal, which led to far more
respect toward the Respondent.
(The Apostolic Nuncio’s name and address can be Googled easily.)
10. Conclusion of the First Instance phase
Hopefully, with this new material, the advocate will ‘argue your case’ effectively to the First Instance Court. But if one were to assume by the statistics on the number of marriages annulled in the U.S. each year, it is the rare U.S. advocate who does so. Once the Advocate has presented the collected material to the First Instance Court, and the petitioner’s advocate has done the same, this First Instance phase has ended.
You will receive a letter from the tribunal judge stating either that your marriage has remained valid, and you need go no further. Or what is more likely, they annulled the marriage at this lower court level, so the next step is to appeal that judgment to Rome. If you do not receive a hardcopy letter, be sure to request a copy.
11. The Appeal (to the Roman Rota)
Regarding any incompetence or mistreatment by the tribunal during the annulment process (“procedural errors”), our recommendation is that after the First Court process is finished AND you know their decision. then in your APPEAL to the Roman Rota include as many "procedural errors" on the part of the tribunal as had occurred. Successful Appeals have been granted just on the basis of procedural errors by the local tribunal court.
If your diocesan tribunal has decided that your marriage is “null” / invalid, you are entitled to submit a challenge to this ‘First Instance’ decision. In her book, Sheila R. Kennedy makes clear that it would not help your case to appeal to your regional U.S. Appellate tribunal ('Second Instance Court'). We recommend that you challenge the lower court annulment decision with an Appeal to the Rota in Rome as the Court of Second Instance.
From our experience with many Respondents, SOS learned that it is unlikely a Respondent will receive a fair hearing of their Appeal in most U.S. Regional tribunals. It would appear that the men in the regional court simply rubber-stamp the decision by their comrades in the lower court. Be aware that if you Appeal to the Regional Court in your state, you can be assured that tribunal will hold against you any challenge or criticism of their 'brothers' in the First Instance Court.
Important: if you appealed to the
regional tribunal in your area, the Rota (on a third appeal) would
have a more difficult time later to overturn TWO decisions against
So mail your Appeal to the Roman Rota (NOT to a U.S. tribunal Regional Second Court).
We have heard time and time again that U.S. tribunal judges ignore Canon Law in order to annul a marriage.
After our Appeal was decided in our favor by the Rota, and working with other Respondents who have had successful Appeals from that office, we believe that it is likely that you will receive a more fair and unbiased Appeal-hearing in Rome. The Appeal will take time but you will not receive the negative attitude that is usually experienced by Respondents from U.S. tribunals.
Writing Your Appeal to the Roman
See also the SOS Respondent’s Guide that offers helpful suggestions to state your best possible case when you send your Appeal to the Rota.
Two letters are necessary regarding the
A. The first is a letter to your diocesan tribunal judge letting him know that you will be sending your Appeal directly to the Rota, in accord with Canon Law 1634 and C. 1682. Write that you do NOT want your material sent to the Regional tribunal Court in the states. This is to insure that they do not instead send your material to that Court. (One of our Respondents told them this on the phone, not in writing, to send the lower court ‘Judgment’ directly to Rome. That tribunal deliberately sent her material to the U.S. regional court, stating they had no ‘proof’ she wanted her material sent to Rome).
You usually have fifteen days to write this short letter.
B. The second letter, or packet if you have
more material ("new evidence"), will be your actual Appeal to
the Rota. Most tribunals say you have thirty days to mail your
Appeal. Here too, an extension of time is possible if
This Appeal letter is to include 1) the date, your current address, case number, & tribunal name; 2) your reason(s) for making the Appeal, and most importantly 3) new material you wish to submit.
Remember, the Rota takes very seriously any “procedural errors” done by the tribunalagainst you; this is “new evidence”. If you do have specific complaints, detail them in writing, clearly and unemotionally. Also include dates from your Timeline. This is where your notebook of the entire process will be an important reference for you.
It is sufficient that the Rota receive just your original questionnaire responses. A copy of the lower court decision (or “Judgment”) will be sent by the lower court directly to the Rota. Unless you ask specifically for a copy, it is unlikely that you will ever receive a copy of the Rota’s written judgment of validation.
Mailing Address for the
Roman Rota, Palaszo della Cancelleria 1,
00186 Roma, , Piazza della Cancelleria, 1 ITALY • Telephone:
06.69.88.75.02 • Fax: 06.69.88.75.54
Google Roman Rota for the name of the current Dean, and to make certain the Rota has not moved to another address.
Once your case leaves the First Instance Court, your former advocate no longer works with you on the Appeal to the Rota. The Rota will either appoint a new advocate, or give you a list of advocates working at the Rota to choose from. Usually the Respondent has no background information on which to make that choice. You then send your letter of acceptance of the Rotal advocate’s services to the Rota. Other than a note from Rome saying who your Rotal advocate is, it is unlikely that you will have any more contact from that Rotal Advocate. (Remember this is a ‘foreign’ process.)
Any letters from Rome regarding your Appeal, including their notice about the advocate, are likely to be in ‘Latinized’ Italian. The diocesan tribunal is supposed to translate for you any letters from Rome. If they refuse, a translator may be found at your nearest Catholic University or a language school. We worked with a Respondent who obtained a translation at her local Italian bakery. Google translator is another (sketchy) option.
Costs to Defend your Marriage Sacrament via
Before the 2015 changes, a defense of your marriage via an Appeal was financially expensive, costing more than $1000. The new 2015 changes in the annulment process state that there is no charge for an Appeal. That is true if you Appeal to the Regional Court in your state; we assume that is also true for an Appeal to the Roman Rota.
Note: The Vatican has stated that an Appeal cannot be denied for lack of affordability. We have worked with two Respondents who could not afford the full cost of an Appeal and their case was not rejected by the Roman Rota.
Because so much money was spent by dioceses to cover lawsuits against the pedophile priests, one must question if sending any money to the local US. tribunal goes to your defense. Send your Appeal material and any fee directly to the Rota in Rome.
SOS Can Help If you choose to Appeal to the Roman Rota, be assured that SOS is ready to work with any questions you may have. As noted above, there is no charge for our services. Our SOS purpose and mission is to empower Respondents to move more easily through the annulment maze, to successfully ‘save their sacrament’.
Sending Rome enough Appeals which challenge those ludicrous decisions, is a way to make U.S. diocesan tribunals eventually stop declaring unwarranted annulments. Lately, in cases of Respondents helped by SOS, we are finding that a few tribunal judges are beginning to tell petitioners to withdraw their petition, because the material is irrelevant and not applicable to the annulment process.
12. In October of 2015, following a Synod (gathering) of all Bishops of the world, changes were made to the annulment process. SOS has included a new Webpage on this website dealing with those changes: Changes to the Annulment Process, 2015”.
III. When Your Marriage Sacrament is Validated/ the Rota has Decided in Your Favor
The Rota will send their decision directly to the diocesan tribunal. The U.S. tribunals are supposed to notify you immediately. But one of the SOS founders NEVER received this notification by the diocesan Boston tribunal. Instead, after ten years (when she heard from Sheila Kennedy that her Appeal was successful), she called to find out why no word had been received… to learn that the Boston tribunal had received Rome’s decision in her favor but sat on it for three years, until her phone call.
When you hear that your Appeal resulted in a 'valid' decision on behalf of your sacrament of marriage, the wording in the letter will be that ”the finding was negative”. That is, the original petition was rejected as flawed, by the Rota.
You have a right to read the Rota’s decision
Make an appointment with the judicial vicar
at your diocesan tribunal.
Usually the first six or seven pages of the successful Appeal document are ‘boiler plate’ and of little interest to the Respondent. Do not waste time carefully reading these pages. But do focus on the actual reasons why the Rota judges made their decision in your favor. We think you will find this well worth your trip to the tribunal.
You could request a printed copy of the Rota’s entire decision, although to our knowledge this has not been made available to a Respondent, yet. So that you have solid ‘proof’ of validity, we recommend that you firmly request a hardcopy letter of that decision directly from the diocesan tribunal judge stating that your sacrament was validated by the Rota.
IV. What the local Tribunal Will Not Tell You
Popes & Canon Law
Recent Popes have published their displeasure publicly regarding the annulment of too many frivolous petitions without reasonable cause by tribunals in the United States. (See SOS Resource Page /Papal quotes and references.)
Tribunal Judges Are Biased Against Respondents, Children, and Non-Catholics
- Tribunal Judges do not honor their own & the Vatican’s Canon Law rules.
- Instead of preserving the sacrament, U.S. tribunal personnel, including judges, tend to look for reasons to annul the marriage sacrament.
- Diocesan tribunal judges expect the Respondent to prove their marriage sacrament is valid.
- Annulment states that the children are not products of a sanctified, sacramental marriage; the tribunal judges appear to have no concern for the impact of this devastating pronouncement on the children.
- U.S. Catholic Church ‘Court of First Instance” marriage tribunal judges feel entitled to annul almost any marriage, even a marriage lasting twenty-five years or more, with grown children (as was the experience of one of the founders of SOS. Her Appeal validated her sacrament and Rome proved the local tribunal totally incompetent).
- Protestant Marriages Tribunal judges
‘annul’ not just Catholic marriages but also Protestant marriages.
Protestant couples married by a Protestant minister in a Protestant
Church are told that their marriage is to be annulled by the Roman
When Catholic tribunal judges feel entitled to annul marriages of people who are not even members of the RCChurch, one can be certain that any marriage sacrament is quite vulnerable to attack by tribunal judges.
V. BE EMPOWERED
Choice #1: Reasons to Pursue a Defense of Your Marriage
- To uphold your own dignity, the dignity of children in annulment cases, and the dignity of the sacrament
- To teach your children how to confront injustice with dignity, fortitude, and strength
- To experience the positive result of challenging, and winning against, an unjust, misogynist system
- To increase fair treatment of Respondents
- Each time Rome receives cases of unjust and frivolous declarations of nullity by U.S. tribunal judges, that tribunal will then experience Rome’s displeasure for wasting the Rota’s time and finances. Eventually that tribunal will then hesitate to even consider accepting fraudulent annulments against Respondents.
Choice #2: Reason why you might choose to not defend your sacrament
You also have another
choice. (please read the SOS webpage
Annulment/ Two Choices)
Consider this: The word ‘sacrament’ is another word for God’s Grace. Do you really think God’s Grace can be annulled by any human organization or institution? Your sacrament is already saved!
The ‘Power’ of a tribunal and tribunal judges is an ‘assumed’ or perceived power, far different from that of legitimate civil authority. Basic common sense dictates that if an individual has no intention to give tribunal’s any power, their perceived power is nonexistent.
SOS is Ready With Help for either of your two
To contact us, please refer to our Contact Us page on this Website.
Let us know any questions you may have.
Allow Yourself to Be Empowered by challenging experiences.
We Believe the Divine Spirit is with us.
Be not afraid. [Psalm 27:1]
Once your case has been settled, we welcome
you to join SOS as an active member.
There is much work to be done for new Respondents!