Father Peter Akpoghiram, a native of Nigeria who has served as a tribunal judge for nearly four years in the Diocese of Richmond, has been appointed judicial vicar of the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, succeeding Dominican Father Raymond C. Finn.
Father Akpoghiram, a priest for 18 years, will join the archdiocese Sept. 19. One of his goals will be to reduce the current backlog of marriage tribunal cases in the archdiocese. In the Diocese of Richmond, the tribunal heard approximately 200 cases annually.
“My being there full-time will help to accelerate cases that are back-logged to bring them up to date,” Father Akpoghiram said.
Father Akpoghiram’s only previous connection to the archdiocese was studying canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., with two New Orleans priests, Father John Payne and Father Nick Pericone, who are members of the tribunal.
A good fit for the position
While discerning the New Orleans position, he visited with Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the tribunal staff in August. He said he was made immediately comfortable and felt like he was on familiar ground.
“I got a very positive feeling,” he said. “Each of them discussed with me on a one-to-one basis the various challenges facing the tribunal. I know and believe that I am equal to the task ahead of me.”
Father Akpoghiram was born in Nigeria, one of nine children. He studied for the priesthood and was ordained in the Diocese of Warri, Nigeria. He came to the United States in 2000 to attend St. John’s University in New York, where he obtained his master’s in theology with a specialization in biblical theology in 2002.
Warri Bishop Richard Burke asked him to study canon law, and he earned his licentiate in canon law in 2005 and doctor of canon law degree with a specialization in matrimonial jurisprudence, procedural law and administrative law in 2007 from Catholic University.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond said he was fortunate to find someone with Father Akpoghiram’s experience for the tribunal. As a bonus, he offers international experience.
“He brings a diversity, a sense of the universal church and an incredible knowledge in terms of canon law,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He is a man of faith. To him, this is a ministry of compassion.”
Father Akpoghiram was one of eight judges on the Richmond tribunal, acting as a sole judge on some cases and as part of a panel of judges on others. He adjudicated matrimonial cases, annulments and disillusion of the bond (both Petrine cases that are sent to Rome and Pauline cases decided by the bishop). He also was a judge on penal cases that involved priests who have been accused of crimes against church law.
Healing is possible
Besides knowing canon law, Father Akpoghiram said he’s gained satisfaction as a tribunal judge as he witnessed healing in individuals who have been away from the sacraments because they are remarried and never received a church annulment.
“You see an earnest yearning for the sacraments,” he said. “The only thing stopping Catholics who want to return to the sacraments is a previous marriage. So it’s satisfying to be able to process their previous marriage and, when we determine that their marriage has been void, we grant them declaration of nullity.
“Secondly, the annulment process helps a lot of people come to terms with themselves and helps them assess what went wrong in their previous marriages and bring conclusion to each of the previous marriages. It brings fulfillment to the work I do at the church. Thirdly, it brings healing to a lot of people who have been hurt in the past by their ex-spouses.”
He is eager to begin his work as the judicial arm of the archbishop.
“My feelings are especially positive,” he said. “My meetings with the archbishop were positive. I didn’t have any doubts in my mind. I believe he is somebody I can work with, and he will be able to work with me.”
Follow Father Akpoghiram’s blog at Homilies4dsoul.blogspot.com.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.