By Daniel Tay

SINGAPORE - A number of Catholics here have shown an interest not only in marriage but also in the annulment process, judging by the attendance at recent talks on marriage, divorce and annulment.

About 70 people attended a talk by Father Terence Pereira held at CANA - The Catholic Centre on Jun 5 on "Marriage Impediments". Father Terence is the leader of a team of judges in the archdiocese's ecclesiastical tribunal which handles and processes all appeals for marriage annulments. Beginning with the meaning of the sacrament of marriage, and what the commitment to fidelity entails, Father Terence explained what constitutes valid marriage, who can receive the sacraments after divorce, and the status of the first marriage after a civil divorce is procured.

Father Terence's talk followed one given recently by Msgr Cormac Burke to about 140 people on the topic "Marriage: Experiment or Commitment".

Msgr Burke, a retired judge of the Roman Rota, was in Singapore at the invitation of the the Catholic Lawyers Guild and the Catholic Medical Guild. But those hoping for advice on how to get an annulment were disappointed.

"I, as a [retired] judge of the Roman Rota, never give people advice about annulment, because each case is unique, and it is impossible to give any useful advice," he said, adding that the local ecclesiastical tribunal is the only useful source of information on annulments.

"An annulment is a declaration that there was never any marriage bond existing between two people," said Msgr Burke simply. "It is a complex process that goes through different levels."

To clarify the annulment process in the Archdiocese of Singapore, CatholicNews spoke to a member of the ecclestical tribunal, which handles all cases of annulment for Catholic marriages here, and wrote the report titled article "The annulment procedure".

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ARCHDIOCESE OF SINGAPORE - ANNULMENT PROCEDURE

SINGAPORE - The ecclesiastical tribunal handles all cases of annulment for Catholic marriages in the Singapore Archdiocese. CatholicNews speaks to a member of the ecclesiastical tribunal to clarify the annulment process in Singapore.

Q: What is an annulment?

An annulment is a declaration that there was never any marriage bond existing between two people. (It means that, according to the church, the two persons who "got married" were never really married because one (or more) of the conditions for valid marriage was missing at the time of their wedding.)

Q: How does the process of annulment begin?

A person who thinks that he has grounds for an annulment should approach either Father Anthony Hutjes, currently the parish priest of Blessed Sacrament Church in Queenstown, or Father Adrian Yeo, currently an assistant priest of the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh. They will assess whether there are grounds for the process to begin.

Should they decide that there are grounds for annulment, the person who wants the annulment (the plaintiff) will be asked to write his case history (and given a guideline on how to write it). Once this is done, the plaintiff will be asked to give the baptism certificate, divorce papers, the marriage inquiry and other documents. (The marriage inquiry is the form that a priest is required to fill up before a couple gets married. The priest asks the couple questions and fills it up himself with their answers.)

Either Father Anthony Hutjes or Father Adrian Yeo will then forward the documents to Msgr Francis Lau, who is the judicial vicar. The judicial vicar has power to judge cases in the diocesan ecclesiastical court. He will assign a number to the case and give it to one of the two ecclesiastical courts of the diocese. The ponens (the one who leads the court) will then look through the files to see if all the papers are in order. When it is in order, the papers are given to the advocate for his observations. (The advocate is one who represents the plaintiff; among them are Father Anthony Hutjes, Father Adrian Yeo and Father Adrian Anthony.)

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The advocate's observations are then given to the ponens, who will call for the settling of the grounds upon which the case will be heard. Once this is decided, the respondent (the other party in the marriage) and witnesses are interviewed. This list of witnesses is given by both the plaintiff and the respondent. When the interviews are over, the ponens may conclude the case if he is satisfied.

The Defender of the Bond and the advocate are then given 14 days each to write their observations. The Defender of the Bond was introduced into the marriage annulment procedure to guard against abuses and he has the duty to defend the marriage bond.

After the 14 days are over, the ponens calls the other two judges in the ecclesiastical tribunal team to judge the case. When a decision is made, both the plaintiff and the respondent can appeal the decision. When the time for the appeal is over, the documents are sent to the Diocese of Kuala Lumpur for a second instance judgement by the ecclesiastical tribunal there.

Regardless of the results of the first instance judgement, the case is always sent for a second instance judgement. (The appeal is automatic and is made even if neither the plaintiff nor the respondent make it.)

If both the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur tribunals make a positive decision, the annulment is given. If both make a negative decision, the annulment is not given. If the judgements differ, the case is sent to Rome for the third and final judgement by the Roman Rota.

Q: What happens if the respondent refuses to cooperate or doesn't want the annulment?

After several attempts, the respondent will be considered absent in the process and the case continues.

Q: How long does the process of annulment take?

It varies. If the respondent or witnesses are difficult to contact and interview, the case can drag on for up to two years. If the respondent and witnesses are cooperative, the case can take as short as two to three months.

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