Tag Archives: judge

Meet the Chaplain: New Lake Charles chaplain a marriage tribunal judge


In Humble fashion, Father Ruben Villareal told Legatus magazine that he is “not very interesting.”

But the 31-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2015, is already a canon lawyer who, since July 2017, has served as a judge for the diocesan tribunal in the Diocese of Lake Charles in Louisiana.

Father Villareal, who thought about becoming a lawyer when he was younger, also teaches high school and college-level philosophy classes. Last summer, he was appointed to become the new chaplain of Legatus’ Lake Charles Chapter. 

When did you discern your vocation?

I first began discerning during my junior year in high school. I was trying to figure out what to do with my life after high school, so I began to pray about it. Immediately this idea came up, which was not a very attractive idea because I was thinking about having a career as a lawyer. I tried to make it go away, but it wouldn’t. So eventually, I looked into it. My pastor said, “Why don’t you give it one year? And after that, see what you think.” So I did that, and it became 11 years of studies. It turned out to be a good fit.

How did you go on to study canon law?

After I did two years of philosophy studies at our minor seminary in Louisiana and three years of philosophy at Catholic University in Washington D.C., I went to Rome to do my theology studies at the North American College. The way it works there, the theology degree is three years, but the American bishops require four years of studies. You have to begin something in your fourth year. Well, before the third year, my bishop said he would like to me to register to study canon law in my fourth year. I then stayed on two additional years to finish that degree. 

What is most challenging about being a diocesan tribunal judge?

Receiving petitions for declarations of nullity, though not all of them can be granted if the evidence is not there. For example, a few months ago, I had a man who was a year older than me sitting in my office. Things went south in his marriage but there really was no evidence for the declaration of nullity. There was nothing we could do, so I had to give it a negative. At the time he was 31, he’s got his life ahead of him, and his marriage of seven years just went south, completely out of his control, and I’m saying that at least in my opinion, he had no reason to think that he should get married again. Things like that are very difficult. 

What is more rewarding, being a diocesan tribunal judge or a high school philosophy teacher?

Teaching high school is much more rewarding. Seeing the kids light up when they finally understand something, philosophically or theologically. Getting to know them and figuring out how they think, how they see the world, that’s a lot more gratifying. 

What have been your initial impressions of Legatus?

So far, I’ve really been impressed with the overall ethos of Legatus. I see how it encourages the members to be involved in their community as Catholics, either through their businesses directly or inspiration to support a ministry. It really fortifies them to do what they’ve already been doing in many cases. I’ve also been very impressed with the speakers that we’ve had. Plus, I like the fact that Legatus goes out of its way to provide its members with the opportunity for Confession and Mass. 

Who are your spiritual role models?

I would say Bishop Fulton Sheen, Pope Benedict XVI, certainly John Paul II. I have a devotion to Our Lady of Humility and a huge devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. 

What are your hobbies?

Usually, I read. I’m not terribly interesting. I don’t hike, run, or swim. I just like run-of-the-mill stuff, having conversations with friends and family, things like that.

Catholics, politics and the challenge of voting

With the 2008 election just around the corner, it’s time for Catholics to start thinking seriously about the candidates they may intend to vote for as president and in Congress. As usual, both political parties are busy appealing to the “Catholic vote.”

Frankly, I’m not sure there is such a thing. Such talk tends to conflate practicing Catholics with those Catholics who attend Mass only for baptisms, first communions and funerals, not to mention those Catholics who have effectively left the Church.

Given the extent to which “identity politics” permeates and disfigures the American political landscape, we probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that American politicians from both main parties will try to spin their message in ways they think will attract Catholic citizens to their various causes.

This means it’s all the more important for faithful Catholics to be clear about the principles of the Catholic faith that ought to inform our Catholic conscience when it comes to voting choices.

The good news is that, with the exception of a relatively small number of issues, Catholics enjoy enormous room for prudential judgment when it comes to their political positions on most questions.

Let’s take economic questions. Some Catholics respectfully maintain that private enterprise and free markets promote the economic dimension of the common good and help the poor better than government programs. Other Catholics disagree. The point is that on almost all economic issues, Catholics are free to advocate different positions precisely because they reflect empirical and prudential judgments reasonably in dispute among well-informed people.

Unfortunately you won’t hear this from a good number of Catholic social justice activists. When pressed, however, they will usually — albeit reluctantly — admit that almost all economic questions, ranging from taxation levels to wages rates, fall squarely into the prudential judgment realm.

In other words, Catholics — including bishops and clergy — are free to disagree among themselves about these matters. What we can’t do is claim that our different positions on, say, the size of the welfare state is the Catholic position.

There are, however, a small number of questions that are non-negotiable for Catholics. No one put it better than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — in a 2004 letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s this: Catholics cannot in good conscience — except in rare circumstances — vote for a politician of any party who consistently works and/or votes for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.

I say “except in rare circumstances.” Perhaps the candidate who stands for life is a well-known and unrepentant wife-beater who should not be elected local dog-catcher, let alone to Congress. Maybe every candidate on the ballot favors permissive anti-life practices.

What does the faithful Catholic do in these difficult conditions? One option might be to abstain. Another may be to decide that there is what the Church calls a proportionate reason for vote for one of these candidates.

By “proportionate reason,” the Church does not mean employing the proportionalist method of moral reasoning (pioneered by dissenting theologians in the 1970s) of attempting to “weigh” competing goods and evils on an imaginary scale.

The great Pope John Paul II condemned such “reasoning” in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) as incompatible with the Catholic faith (i.e., heretical).

A very sound American archbishop explained “proportionate reason” in the following vivid, powerful and direct way. It means that after you die, you think you can look aborted children in the eye when we are judged by God and explain to them — and God — why we voted for politicians who promoted laws allowing innocent human beings to be killed.

I don’t claim to be able to judge the state of any person’s soul. Only the Lord Jesus can do that. But somehow I don’t think pleading that you thought raising the minimum hourly wage from $7 to $8 was more important than protecting innocent human life is going to cut it.

As Catholics, we believe that we are saved through God’s grace, the sacrifice of Christ’s death and the triumph of his Resurrection. But we also believe we can embrace the opposite. Through our actions — including our voting choices — we can freely reject God’s love and enter the eternal separation from God that we call Hell.

That’s not fear-mongering. As St. Thomas More reminds us, the possibility of Hell reflects the fact that God has given us the capacity to deny him and his love. Let’s keep these realities in mind when we vote in 2008.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute and author, most recently, of “The Commercial Society” which was awarded a 2007 Templeton Enterprise Award for outstanding writing on the culture of enterprise.