Function and Purpose of the Tribunal
In every diocese, the bishop leads his community by three munera related to the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ. We see these functions as relating to sanctifying, teaching, legislative and judicial aspects necessary to effectively lead and manage a diocese. When questions or concerns arise in families about the Church, the first person many look to for answers is the bishop, his Curia and other consultants.
In the early days of the Church all of a community's decisions, direction, and difficulties (often as much civil as religious) were handled by the Bishops, alone or in consultation with other bishops. As the Church grew and governance became more complex, it became more difficult for the bishop to single-handedly deal with all of the different issues confronting him. To assist the bishop in certain areas, experts in the law were gathered around as consulters. Eventually, these experts were established in courts, or Tribunals, and were delegated the power to make some of the judgments and decisions for the bishops.
Today the Tribunal is an office of the diocese which is considered the "ecclesiastical legal branch" of the diocese. It deals with many different aspects of Church life, and relates to many of the different functions exercised by the bishop. It is necessary for those working in the Tribunal to be expert in Canon Law and other laws of the Church. In the past, the only people approved to act in this capacity were priests. More recently lay people have been permitted to participate in this area of the Church.
Although the most visible and time consuming area of the Tribunal deals with the annulment of failed marriages, many other areas also exist. As a canon lawyer for the Church one must be knowledgeable in all aspects of church law. There are issues such as intention of donors and understanding wills; rules for religious life; policies and regulations for Catholic institutions such as schools and hospitals; the temporal goods of the Church; penal laws for the clergy, the laity and members of religious communities; the reception of and formation for receiving the sacraments; and the ecumenical and religious dialogue with other religious groups.
The Tribunal touches on a wide range of issues that affect all families in the Church. In the Diocese of Lubbock, when looking for direction or answers about aspects of the Church's life, a good place to start is the Chancery and Tribunal office. While it may not be possible to provide all the answers sought by an individual, it is a good beginning.
The Diocesan Tribunal processes cases for married couples seeking to obtain a declaration of invalidity of marriage. In addition, the Tribunal provides canonical counsel for the clergy and laity of the diocese and assists them with training in Canon Law.