Head of Vatican’s Highest Court Visits Archdiocesan Tribunal

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Vatican’s highest court, called on the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal Oct. 31.

“I didn’t come here because of a problem,” he quipped in opening remarks to staff members in the Tribunal office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan. Among the assembled were representatives of the Interdiocesan Tribunal at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, the Court of Appeals of the Metropolitan Province of New York.

“The Apostolic Signatura has been very, very pleased with the work that is going on in the Tribunal here,” Cardinal Burke said. “We know very well—my staff and I—that it’s very challenging work.”

Cardinal Burke, an American cardinal, has served as prefect since 2008. Formerly the archbishop of St. Louis, the Wisconsin native was ordained a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., in 1975 and later served as bishop there.

Noting the primary purpose of his visit was to encourage the New York churchworkers, Cardinal Burke commended the Tribunal for maintaining the integrity of the annulment process amid the volume of cases that come before the marriage court.

The prelate also underscored the importance of the Tribunal’s pastoral approach. “Every party who comes here is coming here profoundly hurt by the breakdown of a marriage, or in some state of suffering. So we must always show the greatest possible charity…

“If people are coming to claim a nullity of marriage, the best thing for them pastorally, the greatest good we can give them, is the truth—a truthful response to the claim; what have we been able to establish with moral certitude about this claim?

“You’re ministers of justice and therefore you’re ministers of truth,” Cardinal Burke told the tribunal staff.

“Your service,” he said, “is most delicate.”

Parish priests are also integral to the process, the prelate said, in particular by helping those who are not granted an annulment to understand how they may still significantly participate in the life of the Church.

Cardinal Burke thanked the Tribunal staff for their stalwart service. “New York is the premier see of our United States of America and also a see which has tremendous importance in the whole world…

“I assure you of my prayers for you. Be of good courage and God bless you in your work.”

Father Richard Welch, C.Ss.R., judicial vicar of the archdiocese, said Cardinal Burke’s visit was affirming. “For us, it was a tremendous honor and privilege to have the Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura visit us,” he said.

Cardinal Burke’s address was apt in that the staff continually confronts contemporary challenges that are often countercultural. “We are in the trenches of this battle we have in our society where marriage is under attack,” Father Welch said.

“We know that in the Church,” he said. “We’re doing what we can here to speak the truth about the sacrament of marriage, to uphold its dignity. We have to speak the truth about each and every case we get.”

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