Earlier this year, 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 fourth and final in our series of articles on these people and what they do, we meet the Chancellor.

Josée Marr, Chancellor

According to the Code of Canon Law (482 §1), the Chancellor’s function “is to take care that acts of the curia are gathered, arranged, and safeguarded in the archive of the curia.” In other words, the Chancellor acts as a custodian and notary of the activities of the curia, the offices of the diocese.

Josée Marr, who has worked for the Archdiocese in various roles over 28 years, was appointed Chancellor in February 2018. She has overall responsibility for maintenance and preservation of official documents and records such as sacramental registers, patrimony, history, and clerical appointments and faculties. If documents require the signature of a notary, the Chancellor will sign or cosign them. Recently she signed the Archbishop's decrees designating archdiocesan shrines at Skaro and St. Albert. 

Among the documents that cross her desk are requests for marriage dispensation. A dispensation is required for any planned marriage that is other than between a Roman Catholic woman and Roman Catholic man, both of whom have never been married before and are over the age of 19, who intend to get married in a parish of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. 

“Anything outside of that needs a dispensation, or permission,” Josée explains. “And in this day and age, there are many situations that do.”

For example, if a couple live here but plan to marry in Montreal, the prenuptial file initiated at the parish of the couple is forwarded to the Chancery Office in Edmonton, signed by the Chancellor through delegated authority from the Archbishop, and a sent to the Archdiocese of Montreal with a testimonial letter for the parish where the wedding is to take place.

The Chancellor also handles any documentation that pertains to testimonial of suitability for priests coming into the Archdiocese or going out of the Archdiocese, any documentation required for priests who come to serve in the Archdiocese on a temporary basis, and any permissions required for speakers, whether they are religious, ordained, or lay.

She also maintains all kinds of statistical information about the Archdiocese, and has an administrative assistant to help gather information and prepare reports. She coordinates the process for developing and reviewing archdiocesan policies. She oversees the Chancery Office filing system, in collaboration with Archivist/Records Manager.

Maintaining and preserving the archdiocesan archives is also the responsibility of the Chancellor, and she is assisted in this by the Archives/Record Manager and some administrative staff.

A major project for Josée these days is overseeing the development of a new database for sacramental records, which are very valuable to the Church. Currently parishes send photocopies of their sacramental registers to the Archdiocese, and then each new entry is manually typed into a database called CanStat (short for Canonical Status), which is now 18 years old.

“I was involved in the development of the first system of duplicates that we have, a program called CanStat,” says Josee. “This served us extremely well, and it was state of the art for the way it preserved our sacramental data. It continues to be foundational for anything else we do. You look at any other program in the country that has come up in the last three or four years, and they’re all modelled after that.”

While the new data information system will use about 70 per cent of the features of CanStat, it will have several new ones and be much more efficient.

“We’re setting up a program so that it is ‘in time’ entry; when records are entered at a parish, they are automatically entered in the archdiocesan information system. So the entry is not done twice but once, and it originates at the parish.”

Other duties of the Chancellor include supervising the Chancery Office reception services and attending meetings of the archdiocesan Senior Leadership Team, Operations Committee, Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and Policy Review Committee.

As Josee says, there is a “prescriptive part” of the Chancellor’s job in canon law, “and then there’s a practical part that expands depending on circumstances, inquiries, and needs that arise.” For example, since she is in fluent in French, she is often called upon to assist francophone parishes with a variety of inquiries. 

With her experience, maturity and knowledge of Church structure (she served as Vice-Chancellor for over five years), she is a valuable resource person for pastors and parish staff, or for members of the public who call with questions of all kinds.

“In the last eight years, since we’ve had a comprehensive Policy and Procedures Manual, most of the processes are outlined in that manual, and we hope that it is helpful for people… We assist the pastor or pastoral assistant or whomever in giving guidance in dealing with certain situations; sometimes it’s a simple question about best practices.”

Communication is a big part of the job, she says, and the challenge is often to help people understand well what is behind various Church practices rather than see the Church as a set of rules.

“For example, regular parishioners who have a question about being a sponsor for Baptism may not understand the spirit or the theology behind it. There’s often a reason that pertains to belonging to the faith community or that requires people to be more intentional in the faith that they live. There are guideposts, often perceived as rules, which are meant to point in the direction of the good, well-being and harmony.

“The challenge is to be able to communicate in a way that policies and procedures are received and not resented. It is most satisfying when people say, ‘Oh now I understand. Now this is really clear for me. Thank you.’ When you get this kind of response, then you know you’ve met the challenge. It’s very gratifying.”