National Tribunal Service launched with archdiocesan priests taking key roles
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November 13, 2023

Last week the Catholic Church in England and Wales launched its National Tribunal Service (NTS), with four members of the Archdiocese of Liverpool appointed to vital roles.

The NTS officially launched on Saturday 4 November at a Mass at Westminster Cathedral, celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

The purpose of the National Tribunal is to enhance impartiality, transparency, and consistency in the application of canon law across its jurisdiction in penal cases. It was established following a recommendation from the Elliot Review.

Taking on one of two Judicial Vicar roles for the first instance NTS is Canon Dr John Poland, Archbishop’s Private Secretary and Judge for our own Metropolitan Tribunal.

He is joined by colleagues Canon Aidan Prescott, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Father Sean Patrick Riley, Chancellor and Judge and Bishop Tom Neylon who are taking on the roles of Judge in first instance, Promotor of Justice in second instance and Moderator for the second instance respectively.

Fr John said of his appointment: “I am delighted to be appointed as the Judicial Vicar for the first instance tribunal.

“I was on the panel for the Elliot Review and my doctorate in Rome focussed on the Church’s penal law and safeguarding issues, so combined they have provided me with the knowledge and experience to fulfil this role.

“My role is based in London and requires me to examine cases first time around. The cases vary in nature and relate to all canonical offences except for those reserved to the Holy See.”

Fr John sees the NTS as a positive step forward for the Catholic Church, he added: “Fairness and justice lie at the heart of our Christian life. The establishment of the NTS demonstrates the commitment of the Church in England and Wales to promote and encourage consistent and fair practice in the determination of penal cases in accordance with the law of the Church, and so to foster confidence in a just outcome for all those involved.

He will fulfil this new role in addition tohis duties as the private secretary to Archbishop Malcolm McMahon. Fr John concluded: “It has been quite the learning curve combining the two roles as they are very different, but equally as important.

“Archbishop Malcolm has been incredibly supportive and Cardinal Vincent thanked him at a function following the opening Mass for providing me with the space to be able to do this work.”

Speaking in his homily  during the Mass, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “Today is a most significant day in the life of the Church in England and Wales, and indeed for the Church more widely.

"This National Tribunal, established specifically for the application of penal law in the Church, is a focus of practical love and service. It is established to ensure that the rights and obligations of all the Christian faithful are upheld, robustly and impartially, and that justice and equality must prevail. This is love in action.

 “By setting up this National Tribunal the Church in England and Wales is recommitting itself to this pursuit of justice for all those who find themselves involved in the Church’s penal system, from complainants and the accused, to witnesses and others involved in giving evidence, to victims and those found guilty of an offence, always and in every case reflecting the dignity of each person.”

The decree establishing the Tribunal was proposed and passed by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales at their November 2022 Plenary Assembly following the recommendations of the Elliott Review into Safeguarding Structures and Practice in the Church.

The Apostolic Signatura, the Holy See’s Supreme Tribunal that ensures that justice in the Church is correctly administered, granted approval for this National Penal Tribunal on 4 May 2023.