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Monsignor Martin De Groot

Why did I become a member of this Society? Ordained in 1960 I studied Roman and Canon Law in Rome during the first half of the sixties; then the Bishop appointed me as Chancellor of the Curia and as Judge of the Diocesan Tribunal of Haarlem-Amsterdam.

In 1966 a new Bishop was appointed, Bishop Theodor Zwartkruis. Born in Amsterdam he was of Dutch nationality, but in his heart he became an Englishman, speaking the English language in a more than perfect way. In Great Britain he was known as “Father Teddy”, stayed frequently in Great Britain and became an honorary chaplain of Westminster Cathedral. He was the man who introduced me to the English speaking islands: together we visited England, Scotland and Ireland.

In the year 1971 the Bishop appointed me as Judicial Vicar of the Tribunal: at the age of 38. In this responsibility I experienced the Roman Catholic Church in my country as small in many aspects: small because of only seven Dioceses, small because of only six Diocesan Tribunals, staffed with a small number of qualified Canonists. I was looking for a broader insight in Tribunal praxis. I visited in the sixties the yearly Conferences of the German speaking countries, but the atmosphere there was very formal. Incidentally, I visited a Conference of the Canon Law Society of the USA and worked at the Tribunals in Philadelphia and Brooklyn. On invitation of Frank Morrisey I became a member of the Canadian CLS, took part in a Conference in Calgary and worked at the Tribunal of Edmonton.

Part of the work of the Tribunal of Haarlem-Amsterdam was related to English speaking people, leading to a lot of contacts with Tribunals, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland. This was the reason that Ralph Brown in London, seconded by Gerard Sheehy in Dublin, invited me to become a member of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Gratefully I accepted this invitation in 1981. I attended my first Conference in 1982. The situation for the Tribunals in Great Britain (and Ireland) in those days was the same. The importance of the Second Vatican Council and later on the 1983 Code was profound.

This was the Silver Jubilee Conference and I enjoyed the opening address of the President in his, for me, so typical phraseology. I did appreciate the venue, especially the Chapel of the Pastoral Centre. I felt at home and decided to come again, which I did from 1982 until the present day. I got to know the Society as a strong body not because of its number of 500 members but also because of its quality. A Society with cordial and effective contacts with the sister-societies of the United States of America, of Canada and of Australia and New Zealand, quite rightly estimated as “the most outstanding canonical bodies of the legal world, foremost in the English speaking world”.

Through the years I began to appreciate the importance of this Society and its activities in relation to Canon Law in general, as well as in relation to the work of Marriage Tribunals in particular. For me the annual Conferences were characterised by brotherhood and I always felt at home. Thanks to these annual meetings with fellow Canonists I am able to make easier contact with Tribunals in Great Britain and Ireland, as in my correspondence I do not need to start with Right Reverend Monsignor, but with Dear Richard. With an average number of 100 conference-participants it is possible for me to meet Canonists from the whole world. Coming from a very restricted Dutch speaking region I regard the English language as a great advantage for the Society. Perhaps this language is taken for granted by many members of the Society, but it should not be. For example the easy way for the four Societies to make contact with each other, is of enormous value.

The beginning of the history of the Society was marked by the edition of the half-yearly review Canon Law Abstracts. It was an initiative taken by Monsignor John Barry and by him continued during the first half of the life of the Society. Later on CLA was continued by other members until the present. Twice a year the Abstracts are sent to the members. Again, perhaps for some members this review is easy to take for granted. For me as a Vicar general and Judicial Vicar, always busy, it is impossible to know what is going on in the world of Canon Law. So I evaluate this half-yearly review of periodical literature in Canon Law as an important fruit of the Society. This review offers me, year after year, the content of articles concerning subjects of Canon Law. Personally I am very grateful for this production of the Society.

Another fruit of the Society is the Canon law Society Newsletter which I receive four times a year. The arrival of every number always evokes my curiosity. Over the years the Newsletter has contained a broad spectrum of subjects. The content keeps the reader up to date concerning much happening in Church and world. In particular during the last years I enjoy the analytical spirit of Monsignor Gordon Read, commenting on a great variety of topics. For me, as a foreign member, the yearly comparative statistics of nullity cases in Great Britain and Ireland are of great informative value. The trend of the statistics is the same as in the Dutch Church, except that in the Netherlands there are many cases introduced by migrant people (Amsterdam: 177 nationalities). For me, presiding over the meetings of the Judicial Vicars in the Netherlands, it is easily possible to pass on relevant information from the Newsletter to my fellow Judicial Vicars.

Probably after the example of the Decisiones seu Sententiae S.R.Rotae and comparable with the Leitsätze from Germany, the Society publishes yearly the Matrimonial Decisions of Great Britain and Ireland with which the Marriage Tribunals inform each other and are of help for each other, so that justice is done.

Attending the Annual Conference I have followed the developments in favour of the publication of a commentary on the 1983 Code, an initiative of our Society in cooperation with the Canadian Society. After many years and thanks to many contributors this commentary was published in 1995 under the title “Letter and Spirit”. This commentary was the fruit of an extensive undertaking, to characterise as a guide of high scientific level and of practical value. In Haarlem this commentary forms no part of the library of the Tribunal, but is lying on my desk and is daily consulted. Again a precious fruit of this Society.

In functioning as a Vicar General, sometimes I have to deal with the sad subjects of sexual abuse. With special interest I was following the role of this Society and her sister-Societies, for example in relation to the Nolan Report, Copca and recently the publication of the Cumberlege report. I did understand that the Society, recognising the rights of the victims, justly was concerned about the protection of the rights of accused clergy. In this field the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland was valued by Eileen Shearer, the former Director of COPCA, as “the canonical voice of authority in England and Wales”. Being aware of the professional work of the Society in this area I feel proud being a member.

As a foreigner I am grateful for being a member over 25 years. The Society was initiated and erected in the year 1957 with the objective to foster and promote the study of an interest in the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. Over the years of my membership. I have been privileged to witness not only the existence, but also the fruitful activity of the Society and was able to meet so many fellow Canonists from Great Britain and Ireland and from all over the world. Being a foreigner I dare to regard this Society as a very important body, not only for Great Britain and Ireland, but for the whole world and the Catholic Church.

I want to thank the Founding Fathers, to commemorate the deceased members, to congratulate all the present members and offer my best wishes for a fruitful future. Gaudeamus igitur.

28 August 2007
Monsignor Martin de Groot,
V.G. Judicial Vicar, Haarlem

Monsignor Cyril Murtagh

Monsignor Cyril Murtagh

My first experience of the Canon Law Society was at the winter meetings at Marie Reparatrice Convent in Wimbledon. I remember a particularly stimulating and amusing talk by a Lord of Appeal contrasting the British Common Law approach of speedy, if rough justice with the Continental approach of perfect but timeless justice.

Those early meetings were only one night affairs. The “Young Turks” of the Society in those days (Gerry Sheehy, Ralph Brown, John Humphreys, John Barry et al) were anxious to move the interest of the Society to more urgent pastoral problems of Tribunal work. It was they who sponsored a Spring meeting at Wood Hall which was eventually adopted by the Society as its official Annual Conference.

Wood Hall was then a Pastoral Centre run by the irrepressible Monsignor Michael Buckley. I remember his welcoming us the second or third year there with the announcement: “You’ve all got rooms of your own this year, though some may need to pass through your room to get to their own” or, “the swimming pool is open for you all the time, except from 8am to 8pm when it is let to local bodies”. We soon moved to the Passionist Retreat House at Ilkley, a beautiful setting. A vivid memory is of the Secretary of the Society at the time serving cups of tea to us in bed at 7.30 am, despite his usual late socialising the night before! Increasing numbers led us from this beautiful setting on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors to the Northern edge of the M25 at All Saints Pastoral Centre.

The standard of speakers was very high: I particularly remember Fr. Clarence Gallagher, SJ, on Eastern Canon Law and Fr. Zuzek, also from the Gregorian, billed to give a lecture on the canonical position of Patriarchs in the Eastern Uniate Churches: a seemingly recondite subject, except that it had just previously led to a fist-fight among the Ukrainian community in Gloucester! Max Reinhardt from the Brooklyn Tribunal described its “fast-track” methods of processing cases in one sitting of the Court. John Humphreys’ memorable paper on Moral Certainty has always been my guiding light in this area. But, from early on, one of the most enjoyable features was the discussion period after a lecture: woe betide the speaker who floated too many trial balloons in his talk: the expert marksmen in the audience soon potted them, all in a good-humoured way!

In 1972, I was fortunate to get in on a small group from the Society that made a three-week visit to the Holy Land. That was a moving, but also hilarious occasion: the red wine from Mount Carmel was branded as “Elias” – have you ever had a gin and Elias? I don’t recommend it!

One year I was invited to give a paper at the Canadian CLS Conference in Montreal. Gerry Sheehy was another speaker. But the principal guest speaker was Cardinal Felici. After the Conference, I was invited to join Frank Morrisey, Felici and Gerry Sheehy on a trip to Niagara Falls. The Cardinal was rather reserved at first, obviously (being a Roman) wondering what the sub-text of the trip was. One reason was to impress him with the vast distances in Canada and why tribunals had to conduct meetings by phone. But the principal reason was for us to have a good time, and if he wanted that, OK by us: he gradually relaxed and the climax came when we stopped for lunch at a motel. The place was full of ladies, some dressed in white, with a sash reading “T.O.P.S” and wearing white cardboard mortarboards. On enquiry we found this was the graduation day of the Weight-Watchers and “TOPS” stood for “Take off Pounds Sensibly”. The Cardinal was fascinated and went on about “i Tops.” We reckon he went back to Rome and told Pope Paul all about this new academic degree!

After the 25th Anniversary Mass in Westminster Cathedral, we adjourned to the Cathedral Hall for refreshments – I was deputed to look after Lord Hailsham and the Nuncio. I found myself in total agreement with the strong view of the Nuncio that cheese should be eaten without butter on the biscuits – this was about the sum canonical gem from our stilted conversation! The Anniversary Conference was at All Saints Pastoral Centre, our then location.

In the years of preparation for the 1983 Code, the Society played a major part in commenting for the Hierarchy on the drafts of the Code as they came from Rome. We also heard somewhat dramatically phrased accounts from Monsignors John Barry and Joe Buckley about various clashes in the Working Group they had been invited to join in Rome; where they seem to have spent much time in confrontation with the Roman line. Our own work was much less dramatic and very interesting for me, as a member of one of the Society’s Working parties here. But the Pezzi Grossi of the Society (especially Gerry Sheehy) played a major role in gathering representatives of various English-Speaking Societies in Ottawa and hammering out a joint approach by various hierarchies on the vexed question of the “Nature of the Church”. These submissions had a major influence on the final Schema of “De Populo Dei.

Then came lengthy debates concerning the English translation of the Code and a proposed Commentary; in retrospect, it was better not to have rushed into print with a less worthy Commentary. From the very start, I found the Canon Law Society the most welcoming of organisations, whose serious purpose and intellectual life was only matched by its sociability. For me – and I say this in all sincerity - it has been an enormous support in my priestly life. I thought I was joining the Scribes and Pharisees but actually found I was in a rather good club which sharpened my wits considerably and gave me much needed intellectual stimulus: this in an area of Church life which I rapidly came to see as of outstanding importance. I was fortunate to be a member during the period of gestation of the New Code and of rapid development in Jurisprudence, both of which gave me a larger view of the Church. At the same time, the work in the matrimonial tribunal kept one aware of the needs and problems at the “coal face” of pastoral life. I am sure others will write more eloquently and with greater expertise than me, but this is what the Society did for one ordinary member, for which I will always be enormously grateful.

Monsignor Cyril Murtagh