Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Local Latin tribunal granted competence to judge marriage nullity petitions of Chaldean Catholics, 2005, Private.

A marriage nullity case involving two members of Eastern Catholic Churches was presented to a Latin Tribunal for adjudication. Both parties were willing to have their cases heard before that Tribunal. One party was baptized in the Syriac Church and the other baptized in the Chaldean Church. The marriage was celebrated according to the Chaldean rite in Iraq. The Judicial Vicar sought to direct these cases to the Tribunal of the Chaldean Church. He was informed that Eparchy did not have its own Tribunal and that the local Latin Tribunal was competent to hear the cases of Chaldean subjects, by virtue of an indult issued by the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura on April 26, 1984. What complicated matters was that since this indult was granted, the Eparchy has been split. The Judicial Vicar sought a clarification and possible prorogation of competence, if necessary, from the Apostolic Signatura. What follows is the Signatura's response, in English sent to both Eparchial Bishops for the Chaldean Church:

Supreme Signaturae Apostolicae Tribunal

To the Eparchs of the Chaldean Church, USA

Your Excellency,

In its decree of 26 April 1984, the Apostolic Signatura, at the request of Your Excellency, granted, among other things, that the judicial cases of the Chaldean faithful in the United States may be heard by the tribunals of the Latin Church which, according to canon 1673 CIC, would enjoy competence if the parties belonged to that Church. The decree also provided that the Latin tribunals in question could also accept such cases as the forum of the petitioner (can. 1673, §3 CIC) even when the respondent lived in Iran or Iraq. Finally the Chaldean Hierarch would retain his competence regarding the "casus speciales" mentioned in the Motu Proprio "Cum matrimonialium," artt. X-XIII (now treated through the documentary judicial process according to canons 1372-1375 CCEO). Even with the creation of the new Eparchy of _____, this indult remains in force and will remain in force for your Eparchy until some other provision is made, such as the erection of your own eparchial tribunal or the establishment of an intereparchial tribunal (can. 1067, §1 CCEO).

In 1996, this Supreme Tribunal had written to Your Excellency concerning two aspects of its decree, namely, to ask whether the exception regarding the forum of the petitioner should continue in force and to mention the need for a dispensation from the required degree for the defender of the bond who would intervene in the documentary process.

Recently, in reference to a concrete case, this Dicastery asked the Most Rev. _____, Chaldean Eparchial Bishop of _____, whether the indult of 1984 was still necessary for the needs of the faithful of his Eparchy. In reply he stated that it was still necessary for his Eparchy, and also observed, regarding the Eparchy of _____: the Chaldean Eparchy of does not have a canonical tribunal, but a screening Committee of Officers who examines the applications and decides on their merit. If an application is accepted, a delegation is given to the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of _____ to process it according to the canon law.

In light of the foregoing, the Apostolic Signatura would like to note the following:

1. This Dicastery understands that neither Your Excellency nor Bishop is in a position to erect his own tribunal at this time and thus the prorogation of competence is still necessary. This does not exclude the possibility of the establishment of eparchial tribunals in the necessary. This does not exclude the possibility of the establishment of eparchial tribunals in the future, or even the establishment of a common tribunal for the Chaldean faithful in the United States according to can. 1067, §1 CCEO.

2. In regard to the screening of petitions for the declaration of nullity, it would be legitimate for the Eparchial bishop or his delegate (a) to exercise the function of the judge described in 1362 CCEO; (b) to see whether the case could be handled through the documentary process and if not; (c) to see which Tribunal(s) of the Latin Church could be competent according to the terms of the indult; (d) to assist the petitioner in forwarding the case to the tribunal in question. In those cases which cannot be judged through the documentary process, it is not appropriate for the Eparchial Bishop or a committee to make any decision concerning the foundation, much less the merit, of the case; that decision belongs to the judge who received the petition (can. 1188, §1 CCEO). Furthermore, there is no need to delegate a tribunal since the Apostolic Signatura has already granted competence by its decree.

3. In regard to the exception allowing the Chaldean faithful in the United States to present a petition for marriage nullity to the Tribunal of the Latin Church in whose territory they have a domicile even when the respondent lives in Iran or Iraq (cf. can. 1359, §3), while the situation regarding the Tribunals in Iran appears unchanged, it would be helpful to have any observations which you would offer concerning the usefulness of continuing this special provision, especially in light of the current situation in Iraq.

4. In regard to the handling of cases of matrimonial nullity through the documentary judicial process, the Apostolic Signatura notes that when the decree was issued in 1984, no dispensation was necessary for the judicial vicar, judges and defender of the bond. Since that time, the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches has been promulgated, which does, indeed, require that such officials have at least a license degree in Canon Law (canons 1086, §4; 1087, §3 and 1099, §2 CCEO). Although this requirement of procedural law is not per se subject to dispensation (cf. can. 1537 CCEO), this Dicastery, by a special concession of the Supreme Pontiff, has the faculty to grant a dispensation from the academic decree required by the canons just cited (cf. the letter of the Secretary of State of 22 November 1995, Prot. N. 381.775.)

If, therefore, Your Excellency deems it necessary to name or maintain in office a judicial vicar, judge or defender of the bond who lacks the required degree, or the handling of cases of marriage nullity through the documentary process, a dispensation from this requirement should be sought from this Supreme Tribunal. Since a dispensation from an ecclesiastical law may not be granted without a just and reasonable cause and without taking into consideration the circumstances of the case (can. 1536, § 1 CCEO), the petition for the dispensation should indicate the reasons motivating the request and should include for each candidate a brief curriculum vitae illustrating especially the candidate's preparation for and experience of tribunal work.

Taking this occasion to express to Your Excellency my sentiments of respect and esteem, I remain

Devotedly yours in Christ,

+Velasio De Paolis, C.S.


Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Local Latin tribunal granted competence to judge marriage nullity petitions of Chaldean Catholics, 2005, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2005, 31-33.