Share this story

 | By Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L., Judicial Vicar

The work of the Marriage Tribunal in the New Evangelization

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis addressed the topic of the New Evangelization, which has been taught by all the Roman pontiffs going back to Pope St. Paul VI some 50 years ago, flowing from the teaching and impetus of the Second Vatican Council. In his teaching, Pope Francis emphasized that the New Evangelization is not just an effort to reach out to those who do not know Christ or His Church, but is also connected with two other groups. The first consists of those whom we know through “ordinary pastoral ministry” – that is, daily regular activities in places like parishes and schools with the faithful who are present there. And the second concerns “the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism” – that is, those who still believe, but perhaps have lapsed from the regular practice of the faith. (See Evangelii gaudium no. 14.)

The work of the Marriage Tribunal, in truth, reaches people in all three of these areas. Whether a declaration of nullity (commonly called an annulment) or some other marriage process enables an individual to approach the Church for the first time and make a Profession of Faith, or to begin participating more fully in the life of the Church, or to return to the practice of the sacraments and involvement in a worshiping community, it is our pleasure to assist people from all three groups. And our work is very rewarding, for we regularly hear of the healing that people experience by going through the nullity process. It is not a mere legal procedure; much less an act of bureaucracy: the Lord Jesus is at work through it to touch hearts and open up channels of grace.

As Judicial Vicar – that is, as the priest in charge of overseeing the ministry of justice in the diocese under the leadership and direction of Bishop Raica – I am acutely aware of my role as an agent of the New Evangelization. And I count myself blessed to have several colleagues in the Marriage Tribunal who also understand well their role not only in seeking the truth about peoples’ marital status in the Church but also in having that quest be an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ. Dr. Margaret Chalmers is the Moderator of the Tribunal, managing its day-to-day operation and assisting me in developing and overseeing policy and process; she also serves as a case judge. Mattie Shumate is the Tribunal Case Manager, who enters each case into our process as it comes in, manages it along the way until completion, and otherwise is the first point-of-contact for questions from petitioners, respondents, pastors, advocates, and others.

Off-site, Deacon Daniel Laurita of St. John the Baptist Parish in Madison serves as our Defender of the Bond, ensuring that we consider all the angles and Church teachings in our quest for the truth and also that we follow the Church’s law accurately. Father Gregory Bittner served as Judicial Vicar for some 30 years (until July 2021), and since then has continued as a case judge, evaluating the proofs and other evidence submitted in each case and drafting the lengthy decisions (also called sentences) that outline the quest for truth in an individual marriage and its outcome. We also employ regular assistance of a psychological expert to provide the key insights of that science as they relate to the marital dynamic of the individual case under consideration. Finally, we truly could not undertake our efforts in the New Evangelization without the crucial help of those on the front lines: our priests, deacons, lay or religious parish staff, and other Tribunal advocates, who all are usually the first whom those mentioned in the three groups above encounter when they think about having their prior marriage or marriages examined.

I hope the various articles in this issue on the Tribunal have been helpful for giving a better sense of what we do and why. That said, we have dedicated a lot of time to putting together a useful website, which we invite you to visit at There, you can find fuller explanations of all the different processes we do, more extensive FAQs, and our contact information. Indeed, we hope that this resource will help you understand better how you can assist us in our work that is part of the New Evangelization, as you consider those among your family and circle of contacts who may benefit from our ministry and perhaps help them draw closer to the opportunity that awaits.

In this regard, I wish to close with the very relevant words of Pope Francis, again, from Evangelii gaudium (no. 120): “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” Thank you for supporting and assisting us in our work!


Tribunal Staff


Father Bryan Jerabek, J.C.L.

  • Judicial Vicar and Chancellor

Margaret Chalmers, J.D., J.C.D., Ph.D.

  • Tribunal Moderator and Judge

Mattie Shumate

  • Tribunal Case Manager

Father Greg Bittner, J.D., J.C.L.

  • Judge

Deacon Daniel J. Laurita, J.C.L.

  • Defender of the Bond

Father Daniel Sessions

  • Auditor

Msgr. Paul Rohling

  • Judge



Marriage Tribunal

2121 3rd Avenue, North

Birmingham, AL 35202-2047