- Each Eparchy must establish a Tribunal to administer justice, to vindicate rights, and to assist in the pastoral care of the People of God.
- A major function of most Eparchial Tribunals is to adjudicate marriage cases.
- The Eparchial Tribunal must also, on occasion, render just verdicts regarding civil and criminal matters brought before it, and impose canonical penalties.
- Special procedural trials may also arise: cases of validity/nullity of Sacred Ordination, cases of removal/transfer of a Pastor.
- Officers of the Tribunal are: Judicial Vicar (Presiding Judge), Judges, Auditors (Judge Instructors), Promoter of Justice, Defender of the Bond, Procurators, Advocates, Guardians ad litem, and Notaries.
- Trials are usually contentious, whether ordinary trials, special procedure trials, or criminal trials.
- To maintain justice, all matters must be adjudicated by two (2) Tribunals. The first to hear the case is known as the Tribunal of First Instance. The second Tribunal confirms or denies the decision of the First Instance. The Tribunal of Second Instance for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles is the Latin Diocesan Tribunal of Orange in the State of California.
C. Matrimonial Cases
- These trials seek to clarify if a marriage, where all seems to fulfill the requirements of law, are possibly null and void from the marriage’s very inception because of some defect. The following are some of those instances:
- Intentions Contrary to Marriage:
- Against Fidelity -- one or both parties implicitly or explicitly intends not to bind himself/herself to a permanent, exclusive conjugal relationship and partnership of life.
- Against Children -- one or both parties agree to put off children till some future time and the marriage breaks up before that agreed upon time occurs, or one or both parties agree never to have any children ever or come to that intention before the agreed time for delaying children occurs, or one party definitely limits the number of children no matter what.
- Against Sacramentality -- one or both parties reject the sacramental nature of a marriage between two baptized persons.
- Against Perpetuity -- one or both parties rejects permanence and intends to recover full freedom to marry if marriage breaks up.
- Total Simulation: one or both parties totally simulate consent and do not intend to be truly married.
- Force and Fear: one or both parties enter into marriage due to force or grave fear inflicted from outside, even when inflicted “unintentionally.”
- Defective Convalidation: one or both parties marry in the Church, after being married civilly, but consider themselves truly married because of the civil wedding (very common with almost all non- Catholics and many Catholics.
- Imposed Error (Fraud): one party seriously deceives the other party regarding some quality of himself/herself, which causes the other person to erroneously marry him/her based upon the existence of that quality in the other.
- Error of Quality of Person: one person would definitely not marry another with a certain quality of person, though nothing was done to hide this quality. Many today will not marry a drug addict or closet alcoholic. While the person does not fraudulently say he/she is not, it never comes up while dating.
- who lack sufficient reason—drunk at wedding
- who suffer from grave discretion of judgment—lack sufficient judgment regarding taking on and fulfilling the rights and obligations of this particular marriage to this particular person; who are not capable due to grave psychic causes—severe addiction, homosexuality, suffering from severe traumatization such as incest, agent orange, etc.
- Remember too the Diriment Impediments especially:
- Lig amen-- one or both parties had a previous valid marriage in any manner whatsoever.
- Abduction--one of the parties was abducted for the purpose of marriage and was never free from the abductor, even if the captured one freely chose marriage after some time.
- Remember also to inquire whether a Catholic—Eastern or Latin—who married civilly had that marriage convalidated. Several cases have been reduced to simple Lack of Proper Blessing /Form.
D. The Role of the Priest in Presenting to the Tribunal a Marriage Case:
- The local parish priest is confessor, father, counselor, spiritual director and pastor. He is the advocate and liaison between the Tribunal and the petitioner, which involves all his roles as he fulfills this task.
- Sometimes in fulfilling this task, the parish priest needs to push the petitioner to sign and return the Petition Page, etc. This is especially true if the person is non-Catholic. The parish priest is also reminded that he too must witness, sign and date all papers the petitioner and witnesses need to sign.
- Regarding submitting a marriage case: please read through the petitioner’s written answers and then discuss them with the petitioner. Once satisfied, have the petitioner write out the facts in final format. Always have the petitioner avoid “yes” or “no” answers. They are free to write on additional paper, which many do.
- If you are familiar with the facts in this case, please write your own letter setting the facts down. This will greatly help the Tribunal grasp the direction of the trial, and more quickly set the grounds and know which questions to ask. Please remember you cannot compromise the confessional seal, which is why we rarely if ever have a priest testify as a witness.
- Please be sure the petitioner does not write anything he/she would not want the Respondent to view. The Tribunal is bound to share the Petition Form with the Respondent.
- If some of the material regarding this marriage could possibly lead to civil litigation or could leads to grave injury to the petitioner or yourself, please have the petitioner write it out on a separate sheet of paper, separate from the papers attached to the Petition. You do need to add a cover letter confirming the validity of this assertion, so that the Judge can make a Judicial Decree regarding keeping certain material confidential. The Judge cannot restrict all material, only sensitive material.
- While the Petitioner is preparing the answers, obtain the marriage packet that was gathered when the marriage was being prepared and send along with the initial papers a copy of all these papers: Pre-Nuptial Investigation, Baptismal Certificate (s), Affidavits of Freedom, FOCCUS (or whatever testing was used during marriage preparations), Dispensations, etc. Also, obtain a copy of the “Final Judgment” of Divorce/Dissolution. If anything unusual happened in the civil proceedings like catching one of the partner’s in a major lie, or giving the children to the husband, the Acts of the Civil Case may be helpful in reaching a decision. If all the documents and paperwork are submitted to the Tribunal Office at once, it expedites the process of Opening the Case.
- Each priest receives a packet containing Initial Forms. Please have these signed as quickly as possible. It is recommended that you make a copy of the Tribunal Practices and give the petitioner a copy for their records.
- Please make sure you sign and date all Forms before returning them where needed.
- Before submitting any material of any kind, please make a copy of each and every page. It does happen occasionally that papers are somehow misplaced and/or misfiled. 11. Never give the petitioner a wedding date until the letter arrives from our Tribunal stating that the case is completed by the Second Instance Tribunal. We have no control over the Tribunal of Second Instance. Besides acting as the Tribunal of Second Instance for our case, Orange, California is also Appellate Tribunal of the Latin Metropolitan Tribunal of Los Angeles. It is at times, overwhelmed with work.
- If the petitioner or the respondent appears to have emotional problems arising from his/her childhood or from this marriage or from some psychological problem or some addiction, the Tribunal “must” impose a “Vetitum,” which requires some form of pre-marriage counseling with his/her intended. If this appears to be the case, as a pastor and father gently suggest such counseling while the case is being instructed so that this can be out of the way once a Final Answer is reached.
- Talk to the petitioner about his/her Witnesses. Make sure these people know about the facts of the case and are willing to testify. Best witnesses are family members and any others to whom the petitioner confided the facts of his/her marriage. The decision is made about the beginning of the marriage, not the end. So the witnesses must know about the beginning. Children should never testify, unless about a second marriage during their late adolescent or adult years. Priests can never testify about anything possibly known from confession, and so should only testify in extreme cases or is a family member or close family friend and not a confessor.
E. The Role of the Priest in the Formal Trial:
- After receiving notice from the Tribunal of a Session for the Petitioner or for Witnesses, please phone the petitioner at once and confirm his/her presence for the Session, or the presence of his/her Witnesses. Try to help all relax. If possible help the petitioner talk over facts of the case, so as to refresh the petitioners mind. If any problem arises, notify the Tribunal Secretary at once.
- Regarding Witnesses, have the petitioner call each of them to make sure they will be present for their Session. Stress the importance of this, especially with non-Catholics. Often cases are delayed as persons have to be cited over and over.
- Because we hear many cases the same day, having to wait for a late person causes problems for others. Encourage all persons testifying to come early.
- You are an important part of each Session. You are expected to listen to all that is said. You have the “right” to ask questions. Please interrupt, if necessary, or ask questions at the end of the Session when there is a call to do so.
- After a person has testified, they and you must sign the Conclusion Session page. Before they do so, please ask him/her if there is anything more they might like to add. Have them write it out, or you may do so for them. Finally have them sign. After all have left, please answer the question regarding their credibility and sign the Conclusion of Session page a second time. Return that page as soon as possible. And do remember to add any information you may have that might be beneficial to the Tribunal in making its decision.