Fr. Alexander Laschuk JCD is the Judicial Vicar of the Toronto Regional Tribunal
Did you know that the Church has its own system of law? It’s true! This structure is called “canon law” and it is the oldest system of law still in use in the world today.
Canon law covers all aspects of Church life, for example: what our archbishop can and can’t do; how your pastor has to celebrate the sacraments; what requirements are needed to establish a new parish; and what happens when a priest engages in misconduct.
The Church even conducts its own trials under canon law and every Catholic diocese is required to have its own tribunal for this purpose. These tribunals could handle conflict between clergy, an offence committed by a priest or even the claims of the lay faithful. Many Catholics have experienced the tribunal when they have come to learn whether or not their marriage is invalid – commonly called the annulment process.
The annulment or nullity process has a key role in the Church’s ministry to divorced persons. Through the nullity process Catholics who have experienced divorce can reach out to the Church and investigate the status of their previous relationship. In some cases this occurs because the individuals desire to enter into a new marriage, in other cases they might desire to become a priest or religious and in other cases they might simply desire closure. The tribunal helps people reconcile their status in the Church, especially when they have attempted a new civil marriage outside of the Church and found themselves in a situation that is out of harmony with Church teaching. Thus, the tribunal exercises an important and mandatory role.
In 2015, Pope Francis engaged in a reform of the Church’s nullity process. He explained his motives clearly: “The desire for this reform is fed by the great number of Christian faithful who, as they seek to assuage their consciences, are often kept back from the juridical structures of the Church because of physical or moral distance.”
While the Archdiocese of Toronto is not as geographically large as some dioceses in Canada, we do have one unique problem: traffic. The difficulty of getting into downtown Toronto to access the tribunal is a barrier for many – and Pope Francis has encouraged dioceses to address such barriers.
In response to this challenge – and with the support of Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto – the tribunal began exploring the possibility of opening a new office in the Northern Pastoral Region.
A suitable space was identified in Richmond Hill next to St. Mary Immaculate Parish. This office was completed in April 2020, but the COVID-19 restrictions prevented us from opening.
Now that York Region has moved into the second phase of the provincial government’s reopening plan, we are beginning to open this northern office. Cardinal Collins blessed our new tribunal office on Monday, June 22, 2020: the Feast of St Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and difficult marriages.
At this location, the people of God will be able to give depositions for their tribunal cases, while not needing to travel to the main office downtown where the bulk of the tribunal’s work is completed. For some, this means they will not need to take a day of work to offer testimony.
Perhaps you or someone you know has been thinking about the nullity process but, for whatever reason, have held back. Consider reaching out to our tribunal – know that we are here to help you learn and heal.
For more information on the tribunal, please visit the tribunal's website.
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