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This month the Canon Law
Society of Australia and New
Zealand celebrates its 50th
anniversary. Canon lawyers
are trained to advise on the
internal ecclesiastical laws
which govern and are upheld
by the Catholic Church.
Director of the Adelaide
Tribunal Sue Rivett spoke with
Lindy McNamara about the
role Canon lawyers play in the
In what is a sign of modern times, it is
no surprise to discover that the Adelaide
Archdiocese’s Tribunal has experienced
a significant increase in the number of
applications from people seeking marriage
annulments in recent years.
With about 40 per cent of marriages in
Australia now ending in divorce, and
on average lasting only 12 years, there
are more and more people of all ages
and faiths contemplating a second (and
sometimes third) walk down the aisle.
For Catholics, or those wishing to marry a
Catholic, the only way this marriage can
take place with the blessing of the Church
is if their previous marriage is annulled.
This is where the Tribunal steps in to
Basically the Church’s ‘court of law’, the
Tribunal comprises ‘judges’ who are either
priests or lay people and hold a degree
in Canon Law, defenders of the bond of
marriage, auditors and secretarial support.
Sue Rivett, who has been involved in the
work of the Tribunal Office for nearly two
decades and completed her degree in
Canon Law in 2011, said there had been
a noticeable increase in the number of
applications received over the past few
years, with the Tribunal now deliberating
on the validity of the “sacramental bond”
of about 100 cases each year.
Couples who make an application for
annulment are generally looking for some
closure on the “spiritual side”, or may want
to enter a new marriage in the Church.
“Under Canon Law, marriage is ‘divine
law’ and all marriages are deemed valid
unless proven otherwise. Everyone has the
right to have the validity of their marriage
tested,” Sue explained.
“While the Tribunal is a legal process, it is
very much a pastoral process too. After
the trauma of a divorce a person may not
be intending a new marriage, but they
might feel nullity will give them freedom
from a bad experience.
“Divorce doesn’t soothe the spiritual side.
Civil divorce is not about the relationship,
but nullity allows them to speak and be
listened to and not to be judged.”
While the annulment process might
seem complex, Sue said there was much
support provided to applicants.
After lodging the initial application form
with the Tribunal Office (which can
only occur once the civil divorce has
been finalised), the applicant is then
required to write a preliminary statement
outlining the “courtship and background
circumstances” leading to the decision to
marry. The parish priest, parish assistant
or Tribunal Office staff often assist with the
preparation of this document.
Once received, a case instructor is
assigned and they are responsible
for taking formal testimony from and
conducting a confidential one-on-one
interview with the applicant.
The case instructor collates all the
evidence, which may sometimes include
testimony from expert witnesses, such as
Should they wish to do so, the completed
‘acts’ are then made available to both
parties of the failed marriage.
The ‘defender of the bond’ is appointed
to prepare a brief, outlining the opposing
view that the marriage should remain valid.
Both Acts and the brief of the Defender are
given to the judges who meet monthly to
discuss the cases before handing down
Under changes announced by Pope
Francis last year, the judgments no
longer need to be referred interstate for
ratification. If no appeal is lodged, the
decision is ‘executed’ after 15 days.
According to Sue, the simplification of this
process means that most applications are
now finalised within six to eight months.
She added that generally at the completion
of their “journey” the parties involved were
thankful for being treated with “dignity and
“We receive many cards and letters of
thanks from people who go through the
process and above all, are grateful for us
allowing them to be heard.”
For all enquiries please contact
the Tribunal office on 08 8210 8225.
Information of a general nature is
accessible on the website
Mending broken dreams
In his recent book, Beyond Belief,
Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay
notes that while fewer than one in 10
Australians attend church weekly, a large
majority are evidently reassured by the
presence of the many churches in the
community and of the work they do in
education and pastoral care.
The Catholic Church has long been a
central feature of public life in Australia,
operating health, social welfare and
educational institutions that are in size and
reach second only to those operated by
the Federal and State governments.
Australian Catholic University (ACU) grew
out of the commitment of the Australian
Church to the social enterprise. It has
invested significantly in the education of
future teachers, social workers, nurses,
paramedics, psychologists, lawyers,
counsellors, business managers, and
As a Catholic university, ACU does
more than produce well-educated and
skilled professionals. It is committed to
the formation of its graduates within the
Catholic intellectual tradition. To this end,
along with its Faculties in Health Sciences,
Law and Business and Education and Arts,
ACU boasts the largest Faculty of Theology
and Philosophy in Australia.
The Faculty of Theology and Philosophy
has more than 50 academics ranging
from specialists in the ancient languages,
scholars of the Bible and the literature of
the world’s religions to moral philosophers,
church historians, liturgists, ethicists and
systematic theologians. With such a wide
range of disciplines, the Faculty offers a
diverse suite of academic programs at
both the undergraduate and postgraduate
These courses develop skills of
independent research, analysis and critical
thinking, which are attractive to potential
For example, the Master of Professional
Studies in Theology was developed in
consultation with Catholic education
offices and Catholic health organisations.
The units of study encourage Catholic
professionals, teachers, nurses, and allied
health workers to reflect on the theological
and missionary foundations of their service
to the wider public in education and health
Students in all courses in Theology have
the opportunity to travel to ACU’s Rome
study centre and undertake intensive
study as well as community engagement
opportunities to enhance their connection
to the universal Church and its social
The Faculty’s strong research culture also
supports higher degree research. In the
most recent ERA (Excellence in Research
Australia) exercise, ACU scored a ranking
of four – above world standard – in the
survey categories of Philosophy and
Religion Studies. The research Institute
of Religion and Critical Enquiry continues
to attract international scholars as visiting
professors, honorary and post-doctoral
A significant number of Australians will
continue to send their children to Catholic
schools. Many will be treated in hospitals
and by health care professionals funded by
Catholic organisations, religious orders, or
charities. Church-based volunteer groups
will continue to play an indispensable role
in assisting the disadvantaged, the poor
and the homeless.
Through the Faculty of Theology and
Philosophy, ACU is committed to
educating the next generation of Catholic
educational, legal, business, religious, and
health care professionals within a climate
that is informed by the diversity and
richness of Scripture, Catholic theology,
liturgy, ethics and moral philosophy.
Greg Craven is Vice-Chancellor and
President of the ACU.
ACU’s contribution to social enterprise
By Greg Craven
OUTREACH: ACU students have the opportunity to travel to Rome for intensive
study and community engagement activities.
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