Covering the Vatican
Vatican Court System
As part of the Catholic Church’s court, or tribunal, system, the Vatican has
three central tribunals.
This is a Vatican court dealing with indulgences and the sacrament of pen-
ance and reconciliation. For example, in 2007, the court announced a special
indulgence for Catholics who took part in certain devotions to Our Lady of
Lourdes, to mark the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to Bernadette
Soubirous, a girl who lived in southern France. The
head of the court, is the pope’s delegate in hearing petitions for forgiveness
from people guilty of sins reserved to the Holy See. The office also sponsors
seminars on the sacrament of penance, of which confession is a part, and com-
missions priests to serve as confessors in Rome’s four patriarchal basilicas.
The major penitentiary is Cardinal Mauro Piacenza. Phone 06-6988-7526.
Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature
Also simply called the
(or, on second reference,
), this is the church’s supreme court. You may also hear canon lawyers
or others refer to it by its name in Italian,
, or in Latin,
. It is
an appeals court, hearing challenges to lower court judgments or to decisions by
Vatican offices and local bishops—especially appeals based on claims that the
lower court or official failed to follow proper canonical procedures in reaching
the decision. The court’s prefect is the Vatican’s second-highest legal authority,
after the pope. According to norms revised by Pope John Paul II, particularly
serious crimes against morals and the sacraments, such as sexual abuse of a
minor by a cleric, are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, whose decisions in those cases may not be appealed to the Signature.
The prefect is Cardinal Dominique François Joseph Mamberti. The secre-
tary is Archbishop Frans Daneels, O. Praem. Phone 06-6988-7520.
The Roman Rota is the main central appeals court of the church. Most of its
docket is made up of marriage annulment cases that have first gone through
diocesan tribunals. Twenty judges, called
, sit on the court. They
usually hear cases in a three-person panel. Only the Apostolic Signature can