"Un Ti Morceau"

"A Little Something," mini-lessons and reflections by our pastor, Father Paul Counce

The Judicial Vicar's First Actions

Published June 11, 2017 by Fr. Paul Counce

My work with the Diocesan Tribunal takes a couple of full days, at least, each week. Remember, the Tribunal is the judicial system of the Church. Although it has other responsibilities, it primarily handles marriage-annulment cases.

I began in the last morceau to describe the process of handling such cases, a set of steps governed mostly by cann. 1671-1691 of the Code of Canon Law. Each case begins with a written petition submitted by one of the parties to the failed marriage, usually according to a standard outline.

This is when I get involved. At this point the Judicial Vicar or his delegate must quickly do a number of things. First I verify that we can take the case: if the wedding was here in the diocese or if one of the parties lives here, we can. Then, if both parties already are clearly in agreement as to the invalidity of their attempted marriage and why, having explained it so well that nothing else really is needed to prove the truth (something to be verified within a month at a cooperative meeting of all concerned), I can designate the use of a special, “briefer” process before the bishop himself. If the bishop concurs, the decision can be issued fairly quickly.

BUT this rarely happens. Most of the time there are a few questions about what really was the case on the wedding day: what really were the parties’ understandings and commitment, what really was their psychological state, and so forth. Only a small minority of divorced couples remain so cooperative with each other that they will work together, even if they really are in agreement on the substantive issues.

What usually occurs is that I – in consultation with the other judges, assessors and defenders of the bond in the Tribunal office as needed – identify what these issues (“grounds”) seem to be. Then I inform the other party if s/he does not yet know of these (or even that their “ex” has asked us to study the matter!). After having heard the views of this person – now known as the respondent – or waiting a sufficient time for him/her to respond, the process moves on. Within a month or so questionnaires to witnesses named by the parties are composed and sent out.

When the answers to these letters come back – usually within six weeks, although quicker is nicer! – a time for decision-making is at hand. I’ll talk about that in my next morceau!

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