I’ve finally reached the last ti morceau explaining the work of the Tribunal in handling marriage cases. By now you’ve probably guessed that, since it’s a large part of my priestly ministry in my capacity as Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, it’s also something I’m very interested in. I only hope I haven’t bored you to death with it! Sadly, most everyone knows people within their circle of friends and family who have suffered the tragedy of marital breakdown, and the Tribunal is part of the Church’s outreach to them. It isn’t really the most important part – the most important thing is our compassionate support for anyone in pain, followed by our assistance in helping them put their lives back together. But it usually is important also, eventually, to clarify that the failed marriage was not valid, and so enable the possibility of a new one.
In the last morceau I mentioned that, absent any appeal, a declaration of invalidity goes into effect 15 days after the judgment of the Tribunal is finalized. The parties are notified about this. Other notifications go out too: many records held by the Church need to be updated, principally at the places of the wedding and of Catholic baptism. And of course the records of the Tribunal’s evaluation are carefully indexed and preserved in our archives.
Finally, it’s good to mention one other thing that often accompanies a declaration by the Church that a prior, failed marriage was not valid. This is a temporary prohibition against a new marriage “in the Church” until some condition is fulfilled. When you stop to think about this, it’s pretty sensible: Tribunal ministers would be irresponsible if they identified erroneous thinking, psychological problems, and/or problematic behaviors serious enough to invalidate an attempt at marriage, and then did nothing to make sure the same mistake didn’t happen again! We often require a more in-depth prenuptial preparation – or even professional psychological counseling – before allowing a new wedding. This is precautionary, not punitive, focused only on helping someone who’s made a mistake not to make another one!
Thank you for reading all of these “little somethings” about the work of the Tribunal in handling marital cases. Thank you even more for praying for couples who are engaged and who are married, so that they won’t ever need our help in this way! If we would all do a better job of preparing for marriage and working out problems within it, the Tribunal would have less to do. I think everybody would be fine with that!