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Tops in Canon Law: Local Sister of Mercy/Tribunal director honored with national award

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Sister of Mercy Victoria Vondenberger, director of the archdiocesan Tribunal Office, poses with colleagues after receiving the 2017 Role of Law Award, the highest honor for people who work in canon law. COURTESY PHOTO

The director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Tribunal Office, Sisters of Mercy Victoria Vondenberger, received the highest honor in the nation for people who work in the field of canon law when the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) presented her with the 2017 Role of Law Award at its annual convention on Oct. 18.

She is the 45th person to receive the award, and only the sixth woman.

“The person honored with this award is respected as someone who embodies the purpose of the Society, a group of men and women of faith who minister justice and mercy in the church through its legal structures,” Father Bruce Miller, then-CLSA president, said at the annual banquet.

Sister Victoria was serving as a high school teacher and administrator in Toledo when her religious community offered her the opportunity to study canon. After prayer and discussion with her spiritual director, a canon lawyer himself, she went on to earn a canon law degree in 1990 at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Sister Victoria has since served as tribunal director, defender of the bond, and promoter of justice for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She also serves for the Dioceses of Saginaw (defender of the bond – the person who presents the case for a marriage in the Tribunal) and Winona (formerly defender of the bond, now promoter of justice – similar to a prosecutor, appointed to argue for the public good – as  needed).

Service has “definitely been rewarding,”Sister Victoria said. “It involves dealing with a lot of the pain of human life, but the annulment process brings people healing and insight into their situation.”

Since 1990, she has been member of the CSLA, along with serving as secretary, chairing the Marriage Research Sacramental Law committee, and serving on a variety of commitees and posts. She wrote the booklet “Catholics, Marriage and Divorce: Real People, Real Questions” and has published more than 50 articles and edited three books about canon law. She also has given more than 60 presentations about around the country and around the world, and offered a CLSA webinar.

Part of the 2014 CLSA Task Force that submitted suggestions for changes in marriage procedural law to the Holy See, she was also co-chair of the 2017 CLSA Task Force that responded to questions from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors about application of canon law in cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.

In 2010, she began a free consultation group for people with questions about religious law. She also teaches canon law at the Athenaeum of Ohio-Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West and, through its Lay Pastoral Ministry Program, offers Tribunal training to people interested in becoming procurator/advocates to help area Catholics present marriage cases. She also chairs the Review Board for the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist.

“It was an amazing experience to have so many canonists rejoice with me about the award, right after the banquet and the next day, as well as by phone, email, and mail since I returned home,” Sister Victoria said. “So many took the time to tell me how a particular presentation I gave, or something I published, or advice I offered when they contacted me helped in their ministries or their lives. I feel like I am finding my footing to stand among true giants in canon law.”

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