Roman Rota judge speaks to province’s Tribunals


CHARLESTON – The Tribunals in the province of Atlanta received a special honor in the form of a visit from a member of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, May 4 and 5 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Responding to an invitation from Bishop David B. Thompson to visit the southern dioceses, the Most Rev. Msgr. Robert Michael Sable, prelate auditor of the normal court of appeal to the pope, spoke to Tribunal representatives from Atlanta, Savannah, Charlotte, Raleigh and Charleston in a private format.

The Roman Rota is the equivalent of the judicial supreme court in the Catholic Church and is one of the oldest courts serving in the world today. It is the Holy Father’s own ordinary court of appeal, and they judge with full authority.

The justices are called auditors – an ancient term which recalls the beginnings of the court. The auditors would listen to cases and report them to the pope who would make a decision. The pope gave the auditors the authority to judge in his name in the 13th century.

Msgr. Sable is originally from the Archdiocese of Detroit. He has served in the Tribunal of the archdiocese and is the former officialis. He holds a doctorate in canon law with a specialization in jurisprudence from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is an active chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, by special permission from the pope, to the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and provides service to Aviano Air Base in northern Italy. He was serving in active duty in 1988 when Pope John Paul II appointed him Defender of the Bond for the Roman Rota. He was appointed as auditor of the Roman Rota in 1994.

The prelate auditor was in America celebrating his 25th anniversary as a priest in his home diocese. Because of the very private nature of tribunal cases Msgr. Sable could not discuss the topic of his Charleston presentation to Tribunal members. Msgr. Charles H. Rowland, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Charleston, however, said that they were privileged to hear him speak.

“The Tribunal deals with some of the most delicate material concerning the lives of God’s people and we have respect and maintain that confidence, always,” Msgr. Rowland said of the confidentiality of the meeting. “Msgr. Sable’s visit to the diocese was a tremendous gift to all of the Tribunals in the Province of Atlanta.”

Msgr. Rowland said the auditor’s visit supported the Tribunals’ ministries.

“You could tell by his delivery, the special care and concern for God’s people who are assisted by various Tribunals of the Church. He brought his reflections on how best to serve individuals who come to the various Tribunals. He reviewed for us some of the more traditional grounds placed on cases for annulment with a fresh new insight.”

Twenty-two auditors currently sit on the Roman Rota for life terms of office. They become emeritus at age 74 and cases are no longer assigned to them. The name “Rota” probably derives from the circular setting in which the auditors sat to adjudicate cases. Pope Sixtus IV (1472) fixed the number of chaplain auditors at 12. In 1747, Pope Benedict XIV established the competence of the Tribunal in the constitution Iustitiae et pacis. The choosing of the auditors has always been reserved to the pope, however, two nominations were allowed for Spain, one for Germany, and one for France. Bologna, Milan, Venice, Ferrara and Perugia all nominate one auditor. They have to be doctores iuris famos (renowned doctors of the law) in addition to being distinguished in prudence and integrity.