Saturday, 21 August 2010

Only too real

August - that strange month of holidays and what is supposed to be summer. Parish life quietens down a bit, and each year I tend to use it to catch up on things I've been meaning to do for, er, a long time. Very often that includes my canon law work. My learned colleague,  the Administrator of the National Tribunal ( I used his first name in this blog a while ago and got told off!) feeds me a steady supply of juicy morsels for my attention. Chief among them are cases ready for judgement. 
When someone asks us to investigate the validity of their marriage in canon law, we have a procedure which begins and makes its way until we end up with a file that may be between, say 40 and 120 pages. This contains the original statement and evidence of the applicant, of the other party (if they have taken part), witnesses, the Defender of the Bond (whose job is to say why they shouldn't have an annulment), and any other bits and pieces deemed necessary for that particular case.
The application will be on one or more ground, and the judge or judges has to make the decision based on what is in the file, and has to address each ground. If we say "yes" it is checked over by our appeal tribunal in Birmingham; if we say "no" the applicant can appeal it to them. 
As you can imagine, this is the hardest part of my canon law work - you are making a decision that affects the very centre of people's lives. The one I wrote this week was a difficult one, and I remembered one of the lecturers saying in class in Ottawa, "If any of you are going to be the sort of person that loses sleep over these, then best to get out now." Well, I don't think that I lost sleep over this week's case, but I really meant the prayer with which we begin each sentence (decision) "In the name of the Blessed Trinity. Amen." Bring the Lord into absolutely everything, I say - even Canon Law!
Picture shows Fr Frank Morrisey OMI, boss canonist at Ottawa in my day...

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