Let’s begin a new series of ti morceaux. One thing that I’ve never spoken about in these small articles is the work that I do in the Diocesan Tribunal. As many of you know, I am in addition to being the pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral Parish also the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Perhaps you’d like to know a little bit more about that side of my priestly ministry?
Way back in your high school civics class you probably remember being taught that any social group’s government is divided into three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. This is most obvious under our federal Constitution, which gives legislative power to the Congress, and trusts enforcement of laws to the President and the executive branch, and reserves judicial authority to the Supreme Court and courts that are subordinate to it.
Well, in the Church the same kind of thing is true. Authority to enact laws is reserved to bishops (and chief among them the bishop of Rome, the Pope); the proper carrying out of Church laws and rules is the responsibility of the clergy and those laity who assist in the governance of dioceses, parishes and other institutions; and there is a court system to handle judicial matters. In a local diocese, like ours, the court is known as the Tribunal, and its presiding judge is known as the Judicial Vicar. And yes, there is not only a Tribunal in every diocese, at the level of the Holy See in Rome there is a “Supreme Court” system for the universal Church.
I am now in the middle of my sixth five-year term as Judicial Vicar here. I also worked part-time for the Tribunal during the first 10 years of my priestly ministry in various other roles. So I think I know a little bit about the way it works! Over the next few ti morceaux I will explain a little bit more about the way the Tribunal system works, and what kind of cases it handles!