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Retired but still on the job


In some ways, retirement does not mean the same thing to priests as it does to lay people; nor does it mean the same to diocesan priests as it does to Religious. Priests are ordained to a life of ministry and most continue in ministry at a reduced level during retirement if their health permits.

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While Father Kevin Matthews has retired to Port Pirie from his position as parish priest of Cummins, he remains as Judicial Vicar for the Province of Adelaide which includes the Archdiocese of Adelaide and the dioceses of Port Pirie and Darwin.

The Tribunal is charged with the administration of justice, as a court of first instance for all matters of the public good brought before the Church. Although most cases brought before the Tribunal involve challenges to the canonical validity of marriage, the court also acts as the competent forum for other issues, including penal matters.

The Judicial Vicar is ultimately responsible for the running of the Tribunal which can often help the divorced person or those married outside the Church who wish to enter a new marriage or return to the practice of the sacraments.

As the presiding judge, he judges, with two other judges, mainly cases of individuals whose marriages have failed, applying for a declaration of nullity and the possible freedom it brings. There are good marriages that fail and marriages that are fundamentally flawed from the outset. Everyone has a right to apply for a declaration of nullity of their marriage, but there is no right to this unless the marriage can be proven null or not in line with the Church’s teaching on marriage. A declaration of nullity is not a Catholic divorce.

“In times when a large percentage of marriages fail, many couples can be helped and find new peace,” Fr Matthews said.

Answering questions from bishops, priests, Religious and laity on matters of Church law is also part of the life of a Canon Lawyer. Since defending his doctoral thesis on defense of rights in the Church, Fr Matthews has been able to represent a variety of priests, Religious and lay people throughout Australia whose rights have been in question. He was called before the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse because of his work in that field.

The current challenge in his retirement is an invitation from the Bishops Conference to join a team to investigate the possibility of setting up a National Administrative Appeal Tribunal that could avoid recourse to Rome and solve problems locally.

With the move to Port Pirie, Fr Matthews will be more available to visit parishes and individuals throughout the diocese to speak about the workings of the Tribunal and interview possible clients. This work has been limited while he has been tied to a country parish but supported by highly qualified lay canon lawyer and director of the Tribunal Office Sue Rivett. It is noteworthy that the three priest judges in the Tribunal are all from the Diocese of Port Pirie.

Ordained in Rome on December 19 1964, Fr Matthews has served as parish priest in a number of regional areas. He has a long list of services to the diocese, including director of both Caritas and Catholic Mission, Diocesan director of Education, director of the Priests Eucharistic League, director of Catholic Radio and Television and editor of The Witness. He has also been responsible for the publication of several parish histories within the Diocese.

Since his retirement, Fr Matthews said he has enjoyed catching up with many couples whose marriages he officiated at more than 50 years ago. He has declared his new home a half-way house for friends travelling to Adelaide from the West Coast and as a tribute to his many ecumenical endeavours, he was thrilled that the first couple to stay were Lutherans from Cummins.

This is an edited version of an article published in The Witness.


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