“The Signatuara is the court of appeals for decisions of the Roman Rota and for certain other cases,” Fr. Sember explained. “I expect to be handling paperwork and doing the legal research necessary to clarify the issues in a particular case, and then passing my research on to someone else who will make the decision.”
The Rota is the court of appeals for all the diocesan tribunals in the world. Tribunals are church courts and, at the diocesan level, most people have heard of the diocesan tribunal because of marriage annulment cases.
Fr. Sember, who was ordained in 2008, studied canon law in Rome for four years before ordination. Since ordination, he has been a Defender of the Bond — the official in an annulment proceeding who speaks in defense of the marital bond between a couple. Fr. Sember has also served as associate pastor at Nativity of our Lord Parish in Green Bay since 2008.
“Green Bay has been a beautiful experience of the church,” said Fr. Sember. “There are a lot of faithful, enthusiastic Catholics here. My parish experience has been beautiful. It helps me understand how the church connects with the people in their daily lives.”
He hopes that experience will serve him well in Rome, where he will work with English language cases before the court, mostly from the U.S.
While the Signatuara is a legal entity, there are no courtroom proceedings and no juries.
“Legal trials are conducted entirely by written testimony and documents,” Fr. Sember said.
The appointment came as a surprise to the 30-year-old priest.
“Since I did my canon law studies in Rome, they were looking for someone who speaks English and knows canon law. They asked the Gregorian (where he had studied) for recommendations and that’s how my name came up. There was no interview. They ask about you and the first you hear about it is when the letter to your bishop comes.”
The assignment has no definite term, but is expected to last several years. Fr. Sember will receive vacations and holiday leave and expects to use those to return to the Green Bay area. His twin brother, Fr. Joel Sember, serves as associate pastor at St. Mary Parish and St. Francis Xavier Parish, De Pere.
While in Rome, Fr. Sember will live at Villa Stritch, a 27-apartment complex built in 1968, where U.S. priests working at the Vatican often live. Bishop David Ricken resided there when he worked for the Congregation of Bishops. Fr. Sember will also be working on his doctorate in canon law while in Rome.
Fr. Sember said that when Bishop Ricken told him of the request that he go to Rome, the bishop reminded him that “we are ordained for service of the church. We often assume,” Fr. Sember said, “that this means for our diocese, but God can move us wherever. This is another way of serving the church.”
Fr. Sember and his brother maintain a blog at http://brotherpriests.com/