Recently the Archdiocese of Edmonton announced some new appointments at the senior leadership level, including Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia, Judicial Vicar, and Chancellor. Each of these positions is described in the Code of Canon Law, and each is appointed by the Archbishop to assist him in governance and/or administration of the archdiocese. However, the code does allow for variation in their particular duties, depending on the specific needs of a diocese. In this third of a series of articles on these people and what they do, we meet the Judicial Vicar.

Rev. Philip Creurer, Judicial Vicar

The Judicial Vicar is one of the offices that is mandated in Canon Law (1420 §1) to be in every diocese. In general, he is a priest with specialized legal training who has oversight over all canonical affairs. 

Father Philip Creurer was appointed Judicial Vicar in February, taking over the work done by the former auxiliary bishop. He has a doctorate in canon law from St. Paul University in Ottawa, and also worked as a civil lawyer before he entered the seminary. He also serves as pastor of the twinned parishes of Assumption and Resurrection in southeast Edmonton.

While the Vicar General is empowered to act on behalf of the Archbishop in his executive functions, the Judicial Vicar is the one who helps him exercise his judicial functions, Father Philip explains.

“So it’s anything related to canon law, but in our day a lot of the work focuses on the marriage tribunal and the oversight of its procedures.”

The Interdiocesan Tribunal of Edmonton serves the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Alberta as well as the northern Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. For people who are divorced but wish to remarry in the Church, it is the tribunal that tries to determine the legal grounds of the validity of their first marriage.

“The basic thing that people should know is that if there has been a breakdown in their common life, such that there is no hope of reconciliation, and the person is interested in having an inquiry into whether their marriage was actually valid or not, they can either contact their parish priest or contact the tribunal directly, and then have a discussion about what steps to take from there,” says Father Philip.

“There is always a presumption that if someone is married, that the marriage was valid, but there are various legally recognized grounds under which in certain circumstances a marriage may be not valid. The tribunal’s role is to try to determine the state of that marriage on the date the marriage took place.”

“That can be a very difficult thing. The Code of Canon Law tries to reflect also some of the developments in psychology and psychiatry over the last decades that affect how we understand our critical ability to evaluate entering a particular marriage – the freedom of our will to consent to it and so on. So we try to bring those developments in the social sciences as well, that affect us as human beings in our ability to choose and to understand all the ramifications of our actions and our words.”

Father Philip supervises the case instructors and administrative staff of the tribunal, and is also assisted by an Adjunct Judicial Vicar. Most individuals who approach the tribunal probably wouldn’t have occasion to meet the Judicial Vicar personally.

“They would have gone to a case instructor first, who would deal with that. I supervise or oversee all the cases, but all the interviews are done by the case instructors. So they may only see my name on the marriage papers as the presiding judge.”

Father Philip may also be consulted in the development of archdiocesan policies, if there is an aspect that touches on canon law. He might also advise on the canonical aspects of priests and religious who are working in the diocese. “Under canon law there are procedures to follow, contracts that are made and so on. Those are overseen currently by the Chancellor, but if there are canonical questions that arise, then my opinion would be asked about those.”