Church Judiciary

How exactly does the church’s “court system” work? I’ve never got into the canon law. I’m busy enough with civil law but there’s a tribunal that hears matrimony cases. What else do they hear? And there’s an appellate system too. There’s a sort of “Supreme court”. Ha. Does anyone know about this?


The bishop is judge, but appoints judges and judicial vicar. One to five judges will be assigned to cases with the number depending on the type of case. There is a tribunal of first instance. Tribunals are not adversarial but rather inquisitional.

Some cases are assigned (by matter) to the Pope, the Apostolic Signatura (five cardinals hear these), the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Roman Rota, or the diocesan Appellate (second instance) tribunal.

oh cool. There’s a penitentiary? Are there felonies and misdemeanors? What’s Roman Rota? So if the tribunal said you were married do you have a right to appeal?


There are three types of ecclesiastical penalties: excommunication, suspension, and interdict.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is a tribunal which deals with reserved cases of excommunication (latæ sententiæ), reserved impediments, governance of indulgences, and issuance of indulgences.

The Roman Rota is the highest appellate tribunal of the Catholic Church. An appeal of a sentence is made to the ordinary appellate tribunal or to Roman Rota.[FONT=garamond][FONT=garamond]
A decision can normally be appealed. I don’t know if they can always be appealed.

Once a cause for nullity has received two affirmative decisions, there is freedom to marry.

What about things that might happen in Vatican city? Like a crime of some kind. Traffic tickets to shootings?


I believe those are handled by the civil code of Vatican City, and are not connected to the Ecclesiastical law system.

Try this link:

It makes for some interesting reading.

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