Q. 1. What is the purpose of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church?
A. 1. The Tribunal of the Catholic Church is the official ecclesiastical court of the Church. In every Diocese, it is established by the bishop to assist him in carrying out his responsibilities as the 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, the diocesan tribunal cooperates in his ministry, namely, "the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church" (canon 1752).
"A diocese is a portion of the people of God which is entrusted to a bishop for him to shepherd with the cooperation of the presbyterium, so that, adhering to its pastor and gathered by him in the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes a particular church in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative." [Canon Law # 369]
"In each diocese and for all cases not expressly excepted by law, the judge of first instance is the diocesan bishop, who can exercise judicial power personally or through others according to the following canons." [Canon Law # 1419 §1.]
"If a case concerns the rights or temporal goods of a juridic person represented by the bishop, the appellate tribunal judges in first instance." [Canon Law # 1419 §2.]
"In cases of transfer the prescripts of can. 1747 are to be applied, canonical equity is to be observed, and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes." [Canon Law # 1752]
To achieve "the salvation of souls," the Tribunal of the Catholic Church reviews each individual case as needed and implements the necessary steps for the believer to be reconciled in full sacramental participation in the community of the Church.
The Tribunal is a court that is regulated by the laws of the Catholic Church. By the authority of the local Bishop, the court administers justice, vindicates rights and assists in the pastoral care of the people of the diocese. It is supervised by the Judicial Vicar and staffed by other qualified personnel, in particular canon lawyers, whom the bishop appoints. It conducts ecclesiastical trials according to Church law. A major function of the Tribunal is to investigate the validity or invalidity of marriages. Whenever Catholics or non Catholics have been previously married, this must be done to establish whether they may enter a new marriage in the Catholic Church. Thus it assists persons by finding if a declaration of invalidity or dissolution might be possible. The Tribunal uses both the administrative and judicial procedures outlined in the Code of Canon Law to determine the invalidity of a marriage or to dissolve it. It seeks, in the words of Pope Pius XI, "to care for the dignity of marriage; to work for the good of persons."