Diocesan Tribunal

Support with issues of marital breakdown

The Tribunal Ministry

The Ministry of the Tribunal is often invoked as a last resort when a marriage has broken down completely and has ended in a civil divorce. People approach the Tribunal for a declaration of nullity for a number of reasons. The most common is that someone wishes to enter into another union, or is already in a second union and wishes to regularise their situation in the eyes of the Catholic Church so that they can participate more fully in its life, or they may ask simply for their own peace of conscience.

The Church and Marriage
The well-being and dignity of marriage is central to the Church’s mission. All marriages which have been celebrated according to the proper ceremony are presumed by canon law to be valid unless proven otherwise. Apart from marriages involving Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, which must take place according to the rites of the Church, the Church accepts the marriages of all other people which take place in another religious ceremony or in a Register Office as valid.

The process of a declaration of nullity
examines whether, owing to a fundamental flaw in the consent of the parties, the marriage was undermined from the moment of its inception. The task of the Tribunal is to examine as closely as possible the events surrounding a decision to marry in order to decide whether all the basic and essential elements were there to allow a marriage to come into being. A declaration of nullity is not primarily concerned with what happened at the end of a relationship but what was going on at the time when the relationship developed and the marriage vows exchanged. Later events are only significant inasmuch as they are the consequences of earlier difficulties.

Who can approach the Tribunal for help?
Everyone has a right to have their marriage examined by a Tribunal. The staff of the Tribunal, led by the Judicial Vicar, Fr Kristian Paver, JCL, are happy to respond to requests for more information, or to arrange a time for someone to come in for an informal discussion to explore the options which apply to their particular situation. Enquiries are dealt with in the strictest confidence, and in a spirit of pastoral care for all the parties concerned. The Tribunal Office is normally open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and appointments for interviews are offered on these days. When the office is not staffed an answerphone facility is available to record any messages, and we aim to respond as promptly as we can. We should be pleased to hear from you if you think we could be of help. In the first instance please write, telephone or send an email to the Tribunal Administrator, at the address below.

Plymouth Diocesan Tribunal Office
St Boniface House
Ashburton, Newton Abbot TQ13 7JL

Canonist for the Tribunal & Chancery
Brigid McEleney-Smith JCL
01364 645412

Lynette Bieneman
01364 645415