In this series of my ti morceaux, I am describing the “other” main ministry I to which I am assigned: that of the Diocesan Tribunal. It is the judicial system of the Church which primarily handles marriage-annulment cases.
Perhaps you’ve wondered just how such cases are handled? Well, things begin when one of the parties to a failed marriage asks the Tribunal to undertake a study of it. This is done basically by submitting two things in writing: a petition, which includes an informational form listing names, addresses, dates and so forth about the marriage-in-question; and a written declaration, telling us “the story” of what happened. The Tribunal provides an outline for these initial documents.
This initial declaration is generally is the “hardest work” that the person seeking the annulment has to do. Most of us, I guess, figured that the last long essay or term paper we’d ever have to write was back in high school or college! But, as I often say, the Tribunal can’t read minds, so we have to have the necessary information submitted to us in a more traditional fashion!
But let me be honest: this initial declaration is also, often, the best thing for the person presenting the case. Because it amounts to an orderly, careful “look back” on the parties to the failed marriage, and as fair a description of the events and circumstances surrounding their decision to marry, it’s usually helpful not only to the Tribunal but also to its author. I’ve had countless individuals over the past 30 years tell me that in the writing of their declarations they finally began to understand both self and their partner in a more objective way, so that they at last could “move on” from the emotions of the marriage’s failure – often feelings of hurt but always of disappointment – to a more serene, peaceful awareness.
And this is something the Church wants. Sure, the personnel of the Tribunal need to be informed enough to make a fair and certain judgment about the case. But we also frequently describe our work as a “healing ministry,” for we wish people to grow in the process. Growth in knowledge and self-understanding, in awareness and appreciation of one’s tendencies of thinking and acting, in sorrow for wrong decisions and even sins, and in acceptance and even forgiveness for others who have hurt us always – these are always helpful for growth in holiness, which is after all the main objective in everything the Church does.