Information for Witnesses
When a Catholic Tribunal considers the validity of a marriage, we do so on the basis of specific grounds or legal reasons as specified in Catholic Church law. The questions that that witnesses are asked relate to the grounds in the case.
The Tribunal is not interested in assigning blame for the failure of the marriage, and is not concerned with finding moral fault with either spouse. What is important is understanding whether or not the grounds are proven by testimony submitted by the parties and their witnesses. Honest and complete answers are the most important elements in a case.
Witnesses are contacted by mail and are asked to complete a questionnaire relevant to circumstances of the marriage under study. It is helpful when witnesses state briefly how and when they came to know the information being provided to each answer: was it observed personally, or heard about when it happened, or learned about only after this Tribunal case was started?
Personal opinions also may be helpful: even if a witness has no direct knowledge of what is being asked, an honest opinion may help the Tribunal judges to understand the situation better. An opinion is no substitute for direct knowledge, and so it is important that the witness states that he or she is offering an opinion and not a fact.
The Tribunal judges always will consider one’s answers in light of all the testimony received in a case. The judges will weigh the testimony and consider how long the witnesses have known the parties, their relationship with them, and their knowledge of the relationship in question. Witness testimony is very important, but it is not the only information which will be considered when the judges begin to reach a decision in a case.
The parties in this case have the right to know who the witnesses are and to know what the witnesses say that is relevant to the grounds. The parties will have the opportunity to disagree with the testimony, if they wish to, by offering additional evidence or testimony to contradict anything with which they disagree.
Confidentiality is very important to the Tribunal. Only those persons who have the legal right to learn information about the case will see the testimony. This is generally limited to the Tribunal staff, the parties in this case, and their Advocates. No one else has the right to see witness testimony, and the Tribunal will keep confidential both the fact that a witness offered testimony as well as its content.
Important to Note:
The longest delay in most cases is the time it takes for witnesses to respond to the tribunal. It always is helpful to the case if the witnesses reply quickly and thoroughly. The Tribunal does not normally re-contact witnesses who have not responded, but we do inform the party who nominated them if that witness has not responded after one month.