In this series of ti morceaux I’m explaining the work of our Diocesan Tribunal, the judicial branch of the local Church. The other judges and I are helped by additional ministry personnel, of course – we don’t and can’t do everything! In the last morceau, I referenced the promoter of justice and especially the defenders of the bond; one of the latter is always involved in a marriage annulment case, which is the most frequent kind of work we do.
Still, there are other helpful roles. In any case, of course, a party is free to be represented by a procurator (proxy) of their choosing, and in judicial cases it is also possible to have a canonical advocate to argue one’s case before the Court. Now I’ll be honest: in our country we just don’t have sufficient numbers of canon lawyers to undertake these roles very often. I suspect that only in Rome is representation at Court by one’s own personal canonist very common!
But what we do have here in the Diocese of Baton Rouge are a number of persons trained as case sponsors. Mostly on the parish level, these persons help petitioners and respondents prepare the necessary paperwork, act as a “go between” when needed, and perhaps most of all offer an understanding ear to them throughout the Tribunal’s evaluative process. Most of our case sponsors are laity, but there are a number of clergy – that is, priests and deacons – who are also active and effective in this important work.
As judicial vicar, I try to offer the needed training to the case sponsors, and also generally guide their work. That’s quite a challenging part of my job: canon law is not the most accessible of religious subject-matter, and often even a very good Catholic and effective minister in the Church knows very little of it. But our case sponsors want and need to offer correct and cogent explanations to their neighbors who desire the services of the Tribunal, so I and Fathers David and Dufresne offer occasional informal classes and presentations to help them. From the support our Tribunal gets from the overall diocesan community, I guess we’re doing a good job!