Appeals route in annulment cases

My question, inspired by the recent Kennedy case, is what is the appeals route after a decision by the Rota in an annulment case, or is the Rota the final court of appeal?

The normal route would be from the Diocese to the Archdiocese to Rome. I think that the Rota is the final appeal.


In the sense in which I think that you ask the question, the Rota handles appeals made against the Rota. The Rotal panel of judges (called “auditors”) that decides a case is called a “turnus.” These are groups of three judges who are assigned according to a schedule established by the dean of the Rota.

If the definitive decision of a Rotal turnus is appealed and the appeal is admitted, or if the law now requires a second conforming decision of nullity in the case, the next Rotal turnus on the schedule then tries it.

To simplify, the only further “appeal” against the Rota would be to the Apostolic Signatura and only on the basis that the Rota erred procedurally. The Signatura would then mandate a new trial in the Rota before another turnus.

See canons 1443-1445 for the kinds of cases the Rota tries and its relation to the Signatura. However, both bodies are also governed by special law outside of the code Among them is the apostolic constitution Pastor bonus, and it is accessible from the Vatican website. See articles 122 -130. But there are additional norms proper to each.

Thank you.

There are cases which require a second conforming decision? What type(s)? I thought that the second tribunal’s decision was final unless appealed by one of the parties.

Canonist Ed Peters points out two extraordinarily important facts regarding the Kennedy-Rausch annulment case that I hadn’t been aware of. If press accounts are accurate then . . .
1) The Rota was serving as a court of second instance.
This is an extraordinarily important fact. Here’s why: When an annulment case is handled by a tribunal and a finding of nullity is reached, it is automatically transmitted to an appellate tribunal (a court of second instance) for its evaluation. Only if the appellate tribunal agrees is the person free to marry in the Church.
This means that what is popularly known as “an annulment” (that’s a colloquial designation) actually consists of two separate findings of nullity by two separate tribunals.
Normally the appellate tribunal that hears the case in second instance in an American annulment case is also in America, but it’s possible to appeal directly to the Rota, which is apparently what Sheila Rausch-Kennedy did in this case.
This means that Joseph Kennedy never had "an annulment."He never got the second finding of nullity from the appellate tribunal.
It is not the case–as I had supposed–that Kennedy received “an annulment” (findings of nullity from both the courts of first and second instance) and then the Rota got involved (as a court of third instance) and overturned the annulment. There never was an annulment because the second finding of nullity had not come in.
2) The Rota sat on this case for TEN YEARS.
The Boston archdiocese tribunal apparently issued its finding of nullity in 1997 and the case has been stuck in the Rota ever since!
This is simply appalling.
John Paul II twice in his annual addresses to the Rota scolded them about not processing cases in a timely manner.
In his 1984 address, after the release of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, he stressed:
In the reform of canonical procedural law, an effort was made to meet a very frequent criticism, which was not completely without foundation, concerning the slowness and excessive length of trials. Therefore, accepting a deeply felt need, without wishing to impair or in the slightest way to diminish the necessary guarantees offered by the course and formalities of tribunal procedure, [the new law] has sought to render the administration of justice more flexible and functional by simplifying procedures, speeding up formalities, shortening the time-limits, increasing the discretionary powers of the judge, etc.
This effort must not be rendered vain by delaying tactics or by a lack of care in studying cases, by an attitude of inertia that is wary of entering the new track for moving ahead, by a lack of expertise in applying the procedures.
We then turn to the 1983 Code and find that it provides that:
Can. 1453 Without prejudice to justice, judges and tribunals are to take care that all cases are completed as soon as possible and that in a tribunal of first instance they are not prolonged beyond a year and in a tribunal of second instance beyond six months.
Got that?
Tribunals of second instance are supposed to process cases in six months barring special circumstances that would interfere with the execution of justice. Yet the Rota sits on this thing for ten years! Further, if what Time said is accurate then even after it reached the finding, it still took two years to draft the statement announcing its finding.
Circumstances in which justice would require this kind of delay are almost unimaginable. On its face the situation appears to be one of gross negligence on the part of the Rota.
Justice delayed is justice denied, and on the face of it, the Rota denied justice to Kennedy and Rausch for years by taking twenty times longer than the law specifies to process their case.
Now, maybe there are facts that we aren’t aware of that would show that justice required this astonishingly slow pace, but (by definition) it would be astonishing if there were.
In his 1996 Rotal address, John Paul II spoke of the need to resolve the question of what a person’s marital status is (are they validly married or not?) in a timely manner, stating in part:
At the same time, however, the current legislation of the Church shows a deep sensitivity to the requirement that the status of persons—if called into question—does not remain in doubt for very long.
The current legislation of the Church may show that deep sensitivity, but in this case–on the face of it–the Rota did not.
And sadly, this is all too often the case–in tribunals around the world. A friend of mine has a relative who has been vainly trying for years to get a Mexican tribunal to take action regarding an annulment case concerning a marriage that was contracted in Mexico, yet the person has been unable to get the tribunal to do anything at all.
If you want know why America has so many annulments compared to other countries, a significant part of the reason (you’ll note I said “part”) is that it has a tribunal system that actually processes cases in something like the time limits specified in the law instead of letting them sit for years without resolution or refusing to even take action on the case.


It is my understanding the Vatican overturned the Boston Archdiocese in 2004 Boston was aware of the reversal but did not promulgate it when it was official. My guess is Joe Kennedy was apprised of it then as well as his wife Shiela back then.

Joe Kennedy, some time back, said his “remarriage” was “blessed” by a priest. Does anyone comprehend what “blessed” means when a marriage has taken place in a civil ceremony all the while the annulment was still in the works?

Is this priest (if that be true) in severe error? Isn’t this aiding and abetting a polygamist adventure? An adulterous life?

Either Joe Kennedy made the remark as a reflex in thought as a defense mechanism and is untrue or a priest allowed himself to get in the middle of a very, very serious falling away from the Church.

While the annulment appeal was in the hands of the Roman Rota, let us hope and pray Joe Kennedy never once went up to the Eucharist and receive. Doing so would be a sacrilege.

I read Sheila Rausch Kennedy’s book “Shattered Faith” and was taken back with the process of annulment exercised by the Boston Archdiocese Tribunal at that time.

Unlawful use of taperecordings of interviews between the Tribunalist and Mrs. Kennedy without her permission. Basic, common practices of fairness was abandoned on that particular annulment petition by that Tribunal.

Today, Joe Kennedy is NOT free to marry in the Church since he is still wed to Shiela in the indissoluble sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Joe Kennedy, should he die in this state, would be in peril of losing his immortal soul.

The Kennedy case is apparently typical for the Roman Rota. My verdict of “null” was issued at the U.S. Archdiocese level 10 years ago, and was sent to the Rota as the court of “second instance,” which returned a “valid” verdict. It was then appealed to the Rota, where it has been sitting for 10 years.

It is impossible to get information as to the timing of the case. The local Tribunal, the Archbishop - no one - seems to be able to get information. The Canon lawyer can only state that the case has been submitted, awaiting a verdict. But the only thing that I do is wait, and wait, and wait.

It is manifestly unfair to Catholics to be given such a lengthy time frame. If anyone has any information as to how to check on the status of a Rotal case, I would be grateful for the information.

This is a cross you will have to bear; remember, annulments are not given casually. Each case had “speed bumps” and there are two sides to annulments. If your appeal is being contested by your spouse then the merits/demerits of both of your claims are weighed, one against the other.

To “remarry” BEFORE an annulment is decided upon, in the eyes of God and His Church, that person(s) are living in a state of adultery and is living outside of the Church.

This erroneous lifestyle can be compunded when one or both “remarrieds” take Holy Communion…each time it is a sacrilege. For one to die having the stain of sacrilege on his/her soul it is tantamount to eternal condemnation.

A lot of poor souls are just “fooling themselves” and ignore the consequences on the other end of life.

So, you wait…consider the possibility of not being granted annulment. You must honor your marital status as still binding. Your immortal soul is the most important consideration…all of us have to focus on our immortal souls.

There is NO marriage in Heaven…no husbands and wives. Heaven is an eternal family where we are ALL “brothers” and “sisters” in Christ in the Most Holy Trinity.

Read St. Paul’s line where he describes Heaven as a life where" (paraphrasing)…no eyes have ever seen; no ears have ever heard; no one can imagine the wonderful things God has in store for those who love Him…"

This life is a kind of “proving ground” whereby we all choose between the temporal and the eternal.

The normal process is:

Court of First Instance —> Court of Second Instance ----> Rota

In the Kennedy case, she chose the Rota AS her court of Second Instance. This was highly unusual and created all sorts of problems.

And remember, Kennedy-Rausch had an ax to grind. She was brough up Episcopalian, and did not think a tribunal had any right “declaring her children illegitimate” and so much other hogwash in her book. A better book to read on the subject is Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Smith Foster.

My marriage invesitgation was conducted by the Diocese o f Joliet Tribunal, with the Archdiocese of Chicago as the Court of Second Instance. It was granted on both counts. I did not appeal to Rome, as I was the petitioner. My ex-husband did not participate, refused to do so, as he abandonned his conversion for two more marriages and non-denominationalism.

I’ll set my user options so that you can email me in the next couple of days if you wish.

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