Every diocese in the world is required by Church law to have a Tribunal. It is through the Tribunal that a diocesan bishop exercises his judicial power in the diocese. Although the diocesan bishop is the chief judge of the diocese, it is not possible for him to personally adjudicate each and every case. Under the direction of the Judicial Vicar (the priest-delegate appointed by the bishop to supervise the operations of the Tribunal), a staff of specially trained priests and laypeople carries out the ministry of the Tribunal. They also provide canonical advice to the diocesan bishop, members of the diocesan curia, clerics, and the faithful of the diocese.
The Tribunal is, first and foremost, is the official ecclesiastical court of the Roman Catholic Church. The law we adjudicate is the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which has its foundation in the teachings of Jesus Christ. As the judicial arm of the Bishop, the Diocesan Tribunal cooperates in his ministry, namely, “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church” (canon 1752).
The Fall River Diocesan Tribunal conducts ecclesiastical trials involving Catholics or those persons in relationship to Catholics. The Tribunal adjudicates cases (1) to prosecute or to vindicate the rights of physical or juridic persons; (2) to declare juridic facts; and (3) to impose or declare the penalty for offenses against Church law. The majority of the caseload involves parties who have petitioned for an examination of marriages for a possible declaration of nullity, commonly referred to as annulments.