||Fr. Tait Schroeder, the new judicial vicar of the Diocese of Madison’s Tribunal, shows his canon law doctoral dissertation to other members of the Tribunal staff, from left: Tim Cavanaugh, Paul Matenaer, and Bryna Fassino. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
MADISON -- On December 13, 2012, Fr. Tait Schroeder went before a panel of five canon law professors at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) in Rome to defend his doctoral dissertation.
After one and a half hours, the panel approved Father Schroeder’s dissertation by awarding a score of 9.8 out of 10 while making a few “small corrections” and comments, said the priest, who has returned to the Diocese of Madison after four and a half years studying in Rome.
Culmination of studies
The dissertation was the culmination of Father Schroeder’s studies to obtain a doctorate in canon law (JCD). The title of his dissertation was The Canonical Implications of Civil Prenuptial Agreements in the State of Wisconsin.
Since Father Schroeder hoped to return to Madison in December, he had to get his dissertation published quickly. “I had to submit the final text and get the imprimatur from the vicariate in Rome. It was a miracle that I got all the signatures in time,” said Father Schroeder. “The faculty at Santa Croce was very good in helping me finish this work before Christmas. I appreciated how they helped expedite the process.”
The 406-page dissertation was printed in Rome in both hard-bound and paperback copies.
Helping provide some of the “leg work” were Madison seminarians Joe Baker and Gabe Lopez-Betanzos, who are studying in Rome. For example, they took 23 copies of the dissertation to various libraries in Rome.
The dissertation was dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians; Saint Raphael the Archangel, the patron of marriage and engaged couples; and to his “loving parents, Timothy and Darlene Schroeder,” who reside in Sauk City.
Father Schroeder plans to send copies of the dissertation to the other Wisconsin dioceses, as well as to the law libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University.
He believes the information about prenuptial agreements will be helpful to both civil and canon lawyers. He noted that prenuptial agreements can be permissible in Catholic marriages, “depending on the intentions of the couple.”
But he warns, “You shouldn’t assume one way or the other. The Church can respect the legitimate authority of the State, but it has to balance that with what we hold about the indissolubility of marriage.”
Tribunal is fully staffed
Since his return, Bishop Robert C. Morlino has named Father Schroeder as the judicial vicar or head of the diocesan Tribunal.
A Tribunal, which is the official ecclesiastical court of the Catholic Church, is established in each diocese by the bishop to assist him in carrying out his responsibility as shepherd of the local Christian community which has been entrusted to him (Code of Canon Law, canons 369, 1419).
Paul Matenaer has returned to the diocese to assume the position of promoter of justice in the Tribunal. He completed his studies in canon law in December, earning a JCL degree from the University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Canada.
Tim Cavanaugh has assumed the position of diocesan judge in the Tribunal. He joined the Tribunal staff in the summer of 2011.
Also working with the Tribunal as a diocesan judge is Fr. Brian Dulli, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Ashton and St. Martin Parish in Martinsville.
Bryna Fassino completes the Tribunal staff as moderator of the Tribunal Chancery.
Father Schroeder is pleased to have the Tribunal fully staffed for the first time in a number of years. “Having three full-time canonists is a blessing,” he said. “We are a resource for the diocese not only for marriage cases, but for all aspects of canon law.”
Getting up to speed
The Tribunal team is getting up to speed on their work. “I am trying to learn all the steps in the processes and get our new team on board,” said Father Schroeder.
“We are doing a review of all the letters and forms to see ways to tweak and improve them. We are tracking progress on our cases on a large white board, since we have a bit of a backlog.”
Father Schroeder said he feels “the gravity of what we’re going, because what we do affects souls.”
Father Schroeder emphasized that the Tribunal staff has “to do well the various things that need to happen according to the pattern the Church sets up for us. It protects the rights of people, of the Church, and clarifies the status of all things. To do it well helps all the parties involved.”
Happy to be back
Father Schroeder said he is “very happy” to be back in the Diocese of Madison.
“People have a romantic idea of Rome. There are beautiful things about it, but there’s a certain culture shock to live there. To be home and to apply what I’ve learned in the diocese — I’m excited about that. It’s nice to be back with family and friends.”
Father Schroeder is living at the Bishop O’Connor Center and will have the Tribunal as his full-time focus. He is planning to celebrate the 12 noon Mass every Thursday at the center and will be celebrating Mass once a week starting in February with the Cistercian Sisters in Prairie du Sac.
“I thank Bishop Morlino for the opportunity to study in Rome. It was a very good education at Santa Croce. I feel well-prepared to take on the responsibility of judicial vicar here in the diocese,” said Father Schroeder.