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24-Aug-2019 11:09

Now, Deacon O’Toole helps prepare people to go through the annulment process as part of his special ministry to divorced Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

“Generally, I begin the process with our theology of marriage: why we believe what we believe and why the Catholic Church recognizes marriage between two Christians — just like baptism — as a sacrament, whether their denomination would call it that or not,” he said.

[Updated July 24; see editors' note and corrections at article's end.] CHICAGO — Deacon Patrick O’Toole remembered how far away he felt from the Church 17 years ago.

He wasn’t a deacon then — his wife had left, divorced him and took his children.

As they tell their stories, he is looking for grounds for nullity in their stories that would indicate whether they might have a potential case.

“What we’re looking for is: Was everything that is required for a [valid] marriage there from the very beginning? The deacon said he assures many of them that they are not failures for attempting a sacramental union that was not actually valid.

He was once the defender of the bond for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and, at times, the tribunal upheld the validity of the marriage in question because his arguments showed it was truly valid. If the majority of the judges of the case vote in favor of a declaration of nullity, then the presiding judge, called the lays out the issue and cites the applicable canon law and jurisprudence of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the Roman appeals court for marriage cases), before giving the judgment. Nguyen said that in the case of an affirmative decision, an appellate tribunal in another diocese does an entire review of the case before voting on it.“There’s plenty of people out there who believe in divorce, but they say, ‘Oh, but that’s not going to happen to us.’ Well, that’s presumably a valid marriage with valid consent,” he said.