Understanding the tribunal and the roles in the court of law

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For the Umatuna Si Yu’os

A tribunal, which is the official ecclesiastical court of the Catholic Church, is established in each diocese by the bishop to assist him in carrying out his responsibility as shepherd of the local Christian community which has been entrusted to him (1983 Code of Canon Law canons 369, 1419).

As the judicial arm of the bishop, a diocesan tribunal cooperates in his ministry, namely, “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church” (canon 1752). The various positions in the metropolitan tribunal of the Archdiocese of Agaña include:

Judicial Vicar: a canon lawyer appointed by the bishop to act as the representative of the diocesan bishop and exercises a portion of the power of the diocesan bishop by virtue of their office, with ordinary power to judge cases in the diocesan ecclesiastical court. although the diocesan bishop can reserve certain cases to himself, the judicial vicar and the diocesan bishop are a single tribunal, which means that decisions of the judicial vicar cannot be appealed to the diocesan bishop but must instead be appealed to the appellate tribunal. The judicial vicar heads the tribunal of the Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Agaña;

Associate Judge: a canon lawyer appointed by the bishop to hear and decide cases before the tribunal; in a marriage case there can be up to three judges;

Adjunct Judge: a canon lawyer appointed by the bishop to help the tribunal on some cases assigned to him by the judicial vicar;

Defender of the Bond: a canon lawyer or the expert in marriage cases who is appointed by the bishop to present any reasonable arguments in support of the validity of a marriage under study by the tribunal;

Advocate: a canonist or other expert in marriage cases, appointed by a party to advise and assist him/her in his/her case;

Auditor: a tribunal staff person appointed by the judges to gather testimony in a case, and who may contact or interview witnesses;

Promoter of Justice: the person appointed in each diocese and in the higher tribunals of the Catholic Church whose responsibility is to provide for the public good; in penal proceedings, he brings the accusation on behalf of the Church, and prosecutes it before the tribunal;

Ecclesiastical Notary: one who witnesses and authenticates testimony and documents in a tribunal case.

All previously married individuals have a right to seek clarification of the status of a previous marriage. The trained personnel at the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Agaña are delegated to act on behalf of the archbishop. They seek justice, the protections of rights, and the clarification of obligations for all who approach the tribunal.

Church law (properly called canon law) safeguards the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage. By law, a marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise by positive proof (canon 1060).

A declaration of nullity is rendered when the marriage is determined to be invalid. The procedures utilized by the tribunal are grounded in canon law, Sacred Scripture and the authentic teaching of the Church.

While the process is judicial, it is the commitment of tribunal personnel to demonstrate a pastoral attitude and regard for those who submit cases for adjudication.

To experience the process involved in a declaration of nullity is to experience healing.

Information provided by the Metropolitan Tribunal Office.

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The Umatuna Si Yu’os is published every week by the Archdiocese of Agaña, Guam. Our mission is to print and distribute a true report of the Roman Catholic Church’s ministry of changing lives through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.