Tribunal director travels to Cuba to teach canon law

Originally Appeared in : 9716-8/3/17

From June 25 through June 30, canon lawyer Christina Hip-Flores – who works as a ecclesiastical judge, defender of the bond, and consultant for various ecclesiastical tribunals in the United States and Cuba – and I  had the unique opportunity and blessing to travel to Cuba and meet with all the ministers of the tribunal on the island, including judges, defenders of the bond, auditors, and notaries (see gallery for the definitions of these terms). These ministers of the tribunal, as in any diocese, are those who provide Christ’s faithful with judicial services, including investigations of marriage nullity. Per the request of the Archdiocese of Santiago, during our week on the eastern end of the island, we offered continuing education to approximately 30 ministers gathered from 11 dioceses. Over the past 5 years, the Cuban Church has been making a concerted effort to improve canonical services on the island, strengthen the family, and help the faithful regularize their marital status in order to approach the sacraments.


The canon law trainings were held at the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the patroness of Cuba. In 1512, Our Lady appeared to three sailors when they prayed for her intercession during a severe squall. The sailors plucked her tiny image from the waters as it floated by and calmed the storm. The faithful later brought the image to El Cobre, a serene village tucked into the Sierra Maestra, the low mountains of Cuba’s Eastern provinces, where Our Lady of Charity is venerated by Catholics and non-Catholic Cubans alike.


Cuba is composed of 11 diocese, including three archdioceses. Approximately 50 percent of the population is baptized. The remainder profess no religion, or profess beliefs of African origin (Santería). The pronounced African influence on Cuban culture is a legacy from the days of slavery, which in Cuba ended as late as 1886. While in Santiago, we also had the opportunity to taste a bit of the summer carnival atmosphere, extending from the Nativity of John the Baptist through the Feast of Saint James: African rhythms, intense sun, and Santiago’s signature hospitality.


More than five decades ago, Fidel Castro’s revolution triggered the sweeping seizure of Catholic Church properties in Cuba.


In one expropriation, someone decapitated the statue of Santo Tomás de Villanueva outside the chapel of the Havana university named for the saint. As the Cuban regime turned Villanueva into a trade school, the headless statue became a symbol for a church deprived of influence.


The Villanueva statue has been headless since 1963 but the larger body of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba has endured and, recently, grown stronger, despite the combination of careless neglect and open hostility it has suffered during the last 50 years. In 2015, the government quietly returned the Villanueva statue and chapel to Church officials along with some other properties; the Church then broke ground on its first new seminary.


Cubans are a religious people, but there was little faith formation during the last half century. Now the people can express their own faith and the church is free to evangelize large areas where the population was unable to receive pastoral care. Missionaries from different countries are working in the rural communities, where social media and technological communication are not available most of the time.


The local tribunals are trying to keep up with an increased number of requests for sacraments and annulments.  


Canon Law Lexicon

Auditor: One who takes a formal deposition (testimony) from a party or witness in a case.

Defender of the Bond: An officer of the court appointed by the Bishop to defend the validity of the bond of marriage during the Process of Annulment.

 Judge: An ecclesiastical office whereby someone is empowered to preside over the gathering of evidence in controverted matters and render decisions on petitions presented to the court.

Notary: A clerk of the Diocesan Court, who is designated to perform the legal functions of recording and certifying the acts of cases or other ecclesiastical documents.


David Castronovo, JCD, is director of the Diocese of Savannah tribunal. 


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