A Tribunal is the court established in each diocese by the bishop to assist him in carrying out his responsibility as shepherd of the local Christian community which has been entrusted to him (cc. 369, 1419 Code of Canon Law, 1983). As the judicial arm of the bishop, the diocesan tribunal cooperates in his ministry of furthering the supreme law of the Church–the salvation of souls (c.1752).
The diocesan bishop appoints a judicial vicar to oversee the operation of the tribunal (c.1420). This individual must be a priest with a degree in canon law. Other qualified individuals, both cleric and lay, are appointed by the bishop to serve as judges, defenders of the bond, auditors, assessors, advocates and notaries in order to process petitions requesting a declaration of invalidity. The entire judicial process is specified in Book VII of the Code of Canon Law, as are the qualifications for various positions (cc1400-1707).
Presently, most cases heard by the Tribunal of the Diocese of Cleveland are petitions for declarations of marital invalidity. The tribunal adjudicates these petitions according to the Church’s procedual law and understanding of marriage. Church law safeguards the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage. By law, a marriage is presumed valid until established otherwise by positive proof (c.1060). A declaration of invalidity is rendered when the marriage is determined to be invalid. The Tribunal is also competent to receive petitions for permission to separate from one’s spouse. While these processes are judicial, it is the commitment of the tribunal personnel to demonstrate a pastoral attitude.
In addition, some requests related to marriages are not heard as formal petitions in judicial trials; to provide simpler service to petitioners and pastors, these cases are still dealt with by staff of the Tribunal, though not functioning formally as a court.
Parishes are encouraged to print the tri-fold two-sided Tribunal informational brochure and distribute these freely to all of the faithful who may inquire about the work of the Diocese of Cleveland Tribunal.
Clergy and staff who wish to read the latest (April 2014) guides for marriage preparation, sacramental records and tribunal procedures may visit the Publications page.