The court of the Reykjavík Diocese

In our society, it is normal that power is divided, so that the law makers, the law enforcers and those who judge according to the law are not the same people, rather each have their own institution and staff. In practice, there is a lot of contact between these institutions: The power of the state, executive power is supported usually by a parliamentary majority - legislative authority; judicial power - the judges, make decisions according to the laws that the parliament has passed, and they are appointed by the state.

In the Catholic Church such a division of power, basically does not exist. The Pope is the law maker for the Church as a whole and the bishops are the law makers for the local churches (dioceses), governors and judges. But both the Pope and the bishops are obliged in all things to be faithful to Holy Scriptures and to the laws that God has revealed in them. They may not change these laws but only interpret them and adapt them to the current circumstances. In addition, the bishop is bound to the decisions of the Church´s court. He must also take account of the advice of his priests, even though he makes the final decision himself. In regard to governing, the bishop sometimes lets others govern on his behalf, especially his proxy (vicar general). Parish priests also have a certain independence. In dealing with matters of law and order, the bishop is to appoint a legal representative (officialis) and judges. They make judgments on the basis of general legal procedure but acting according as they see correct in their opinion.

The Church´s court orders that :"Each bishop who governs a diocese shall name a representative for the handling of legal matters (officialis) who has, because of his office, general judicial power in the diocese. This representative (officialis) may not be the same one who is the general proxy (vicar general)." (See CIC 1983, 1420:1). The"officialis" should be a priest with a licence in church (canon) law. The bishop should nominate three judges to assist him and they should have a good knowledge of canon law. The judges and the officialis make up the court of the diocese.

The majority of these members of the court should be priests. The bishop appoints them for a fixed time period - usually for five years - but they can be reappointed many times. The bishop cannot remove them from office without a serious valid reason.

The court of the diocese deals with disagreements in regard to sacred ordination or marriage. In cases of a disputed ordination or an application for the annulment of marriage, the bishop shall appoint a defender of the bond (defensor vinculi) who shall propose and present to the court and indicate everything possible which would block the contesting of the ordination or marriage. The bishop shall also appoint an official to protect the common good of the Church which a particular case could affect (promoter justitiae), and also a notary.

The court of the diocese decides the validity of sacred ordination or marriage. First the parties are interviewed and also the relevant witnesses. An"investigating judge" (auditor) can do this. The bishop shall propose the parties and witnesses to the advocate (advocatus). The acts of the interviews, and the reports of the witnesses and experts if necessary (for example doctors and psychologists), are presented to the court of the diocese. The court investigates the documents and asks the defender of the bond about his opinion. The court can, if necessary, ask more questions of the advocate and of the witnesses and so decide the sentence (decided according to the majority of the votes). Then all the documents are sent to another court for the diocese which the Holy See appoints. If the sentence of this second court agrees with the first, then it becomes legally binding and the parties will be informed. If the sentence of this second court disagrees with the first, then recourse must be made to a third court which in most cases would be the highest court in the Church, the"Sacra Romana Rota". It´s decision is final.

In Reykjavík diocese, there has not been, until now, a court of this type. Disagreements regarding marriage here have been, first of all, presented to the court in the diocese of Oslo in Norway and then presented to the court of the archdiocese of Westminster in England. This arrangement often was problematic because of the various languages involved, which caused long delays.

So our bishop in Reykjavík turned to the bishop of Oslo and the Holy See for a solution. Eventually, the bishop in Munster, Germany, declared himself ready to"loan" our bishop the needed officialis, three judges, one defender of the bond and one notary, who all have a lot of experience and knowledge of church law and languages. These people have been appointed by our bishop to be part of the new court of the diocese of Reykjavík. The second court will be in the diocese of Munster itself, with various judges involved. The bishop of Reykjavík has appointed some priests from here to be"promoter justitiae" (protector of the common good), investigative judge and advocate.

Thus, finally, Reykjavík diocese has it´s own court which deals especially with cases of dispute and annulment of marriage in a capable way and reasonable time. This ensures the parties concerned of the rights they are entitled to, in regard to the handling of their case.

Members of the court of Reykjavík diocese:

President: Monsignor David B. Tencer OFMCap, Bishop of Reykjavík

Court representitive (Officialis): Monsignor Kurt Schulte.

Judges: Rev. Gregor Ewering. Rev. Michael Wiemuth, representitive of the bishop´s court.

Defensor vinculi: Christina Ruffing.

Notary: Simone Post.

Protector of the common good (promotor iustitiae): Rev. Jakob Rolland.

Addresses of the court of Reykjavík diocese:

In Reykjavík: Hávallagötu 14, 101 Reykjavík, Tel. 552 53 88

In Münster: Horsterberg 11, D-48143 Münster, Tel. 0043-251 495 6037

Further information on the homepage of Münster Diocese