Internal forum

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In Roman Catholic canon law, a distinction is made between the internal forum, where an act of governance is made without publicity, and the external forum, where the act is public and verifiable.

Thus the name of the parties in a marriage contracted in the external forum are noted in a public register,[1] but a marriage celebrated secretly is to be noted instead in a special register kept in the secret archive of the diocesan curia.[2]

The distinction between the internal forum and the external forum is recognized in the Code of Canon Law, which states: "Of itself, the power of governance is exercised for the external forum; sometimes, however, it is exercised for the internal forum alone, so that the effects which its exercise is meant to have for the external forum are not recognized there, except insofar as the law establishes it in determined cases."[3]

Within the internal forum a distinction is made between the sacramental internal forum and the non-sacramental internal forum, according as matters are decided in the sacrament of Penance, and thus additionally protected by the seal of confession, or outside of the sacrament.

Sometimes power of governance is given for the sacramental forum only: in each diocese a priest is to be appointed who has the faculty, which he cannot delegate to others, of "absolving in the sacramental forum outsiders within the diocese and members of the diocese even outside the territory of the diocese from undeclared latae sententiae censures not reserved to the Apostolic See".[4]

In the Roman Curia, the Apostolic Penitentiary has jurisdiction for matters of the internal forum, both sacramental and non-sacramental, but in some instances its decisions hold also in the external forum, as when, unless it states otherwise, a dispensation that it grants in the non-sacramental internal forum from an occult impediment to marriage, is sufficient even if the occult impediment later becomes public.[5]

The term "internal forum" is sometimes used in connection with the controversial[6] so-called "internal forum solution" claimed to justify reception of Holy Communion by someone who is convinced that a former marriage was invalid, but who cannot prove this externally so as to obtain an annulment. This is not a canonical solution.[7]

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