Oops. We’re looking at the ministers and work of the Diocesan Tribunal, the judicial system of the Church which primarily handles marriage-annulment cases. Last time when I said in my ti morceau that our assessors and office manager were the last Tribunal ministers – along with our judges, defenders of the bond, promoter of justice, and case sponsors – to be mentioned, I actually forgot two very important categories of helper.
One is official, and required by canon law: the “expert.” Another is unofficial, but vital to the work of the Church: the clergy and lay ministers who work day in and day out in our Parishes. We’ll deal with the first of these this week.
The role of the expert is a specialized one, depending on the type of thing under study, of course. In civil courts the testimony of experts is often sought to help the judge and jury understand something extremely technical: financial experts, medical and forensic experts, scientific experts, and so on. In annulment cases in the Church’s courts, however, it is the role of psychological expert that is most often employed.
You see, in order to marry validly, a person must have a psychological capacity to do so. Yet many people are afflicted with emotional and other psychic disturbances – often without knowing it at the time they try to marry. A psychologist’s expert analysis is always useful and sometimes absolutely necessary in understanding if a person was so compromised by some situation or illness that valid marriage was impossible for them. Often defects of behavior and mind that aren’t classified as psychological disorders are still serious, if not managed properly and especially if unknown at the time of the wedding. Input from a psychological expert is most useful in verifying that someone with addictive behaviors or chronic emotional problems was able to function – or not – within God’s plan for marriage.
I admit, often a psychologist’s analysis is not necessary: drinking problems, for instance, and criminal behaviors such as domestic violence often are so obvious that no commonsense evaluation would accept them as coherent with true matrimony. But it’s nice to have an expert to help when needed.