Getting closer to Jesus through Church law

August 19, 2014

HOUSTON — Every organization in society has its laws and rules for keeping order and living the purpose of that organization. 

The Catholic Church has its own set of laws and rules, called Canon Law, to help protect the rights of its members and ensure they are treated equally and fairly. Some of the laws are of divine origin and others originate in the Church.

The ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston focused on safe-guarding our Catholic faith and tradition through the understanding and practice of Canon Law is the Tribunal. The Tribunal is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF). 

“Justice, for us, is making sure that people’s rights are protected while at the same time holding fast to the teachings and laws of the Catholic Church,” said Anne Bryant, JCL, director of the Tribunal. 

“It is a wonderful ministry, because in the end it brings people closer to Jesus Christ and their faith. It is very gratifying to see Catholics being able to live their faith through marriage and the other sacraments and helping those who have chosen to become Catholic through the RCIA process,” Bryant added.

The ministry offers canonical advice to the Chancery, clergy and laity alike in many different areas of Church law. 

This includes answering many questions about sacraments, the rights and obligations of the laity and clergy, buying and selling property, and working with the faithful on declarations of marriage nullity. 

Bryant said declarations of nullity, commonly known as annulments, for the Archdiocese are a primary focus for this ministry. 

They train the clergy and laity to become case sponsors so they can assist those in need of annulments with their paperwork, which many times can be a painful process. The case sponsor is there to encourage them and listen as well.

“Through our work with marriage nullity, we see the growing rate of divorce, the abuses that can occur in some marriages and the selfishness of some of the spouses,” Bryant said. 

“We can share our knowledge with those doing marriage preparation so that they can become better prepared and more aware of red flags during the preparation process. Sometimes this actually can be a very healing process, and we have received many notes from people who have told us how much the nullity process helped them to step back and see their marriage through different eyes than when they were experiencing it.”

Bryant said the case sponsors are a great help to the priests who are sometimes overwhelmed with all the work they have to do in their parishes. 

Although the ministry is dealing with failed marriages, she said the process is hopeful because the petitioner wants to live their Catholic faith, or help their intended spouse live it.