In my last ti morceau about the work of the Diocesan Tribunal, the judicial system of the Church which primarily handles marriage-annulment cases, I mentioned a unique kind of assistant: the psychological “expert.”
Now it’s time to mention – and pay tribute to – the final category of Tribunal helpers. These are the clergy and lay ministers who work day in and day out in our Parishes. After all, when persons whose marriages have broken down so that now they need to seek the services of the Tribunal, they usually first turn to their own Parish’s staff.
You might think that all that’s done at the Parish level is filling-out paperwork. Well, that’s part of it, of course, and Parish ministers help with this: to initiate a Tribunal process it’s necessary to convey to the Tribunal some important information. The parties’ names and contact information, as well as religious statuses, are some things that need to be reported. Witnesses’ names and contact information also are things the Tribunal can’t easily guess! Factual information about the wedding itself is also needed. Much of this kind of thing can be certified from parochial files, including especially baptismal registers (I like to think of one’s baptismal record as the “permanent record” of every Catholic, since it contains not only information about baptism but also about every other important and unchangeable status in the Church.)
But most important among the paperwork is the written declarations of the petitioner (and those of his or her former spouse, if they are willing to help). The questionnaire the Tribunal uses is shorter than it once was, but still most people say it’s like doing one last autobiographical term paper! And it’s often an emotional journey back in time for the author, as good things as well as painful memories are recalled and described.
Years of experience have shown that Parish staff can be very helpful in assisting persons to work through the emotion – and also to gain some spiritual insight! – from these tasks of remembering and putting everything down on paper. In fact, Parish ministers are almost always the best ones, as Pope Francis wants, to “accompany” those who are still in need of healing and guidance. Since the small staff of the Tribunal itself cannot be present to every prospective petitioner and their former spouse, it’s a blessing to have so many priests, deacons and lay ministers trained and eager to assist.