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Tribunal moderator successfully juggles family, faith

Amanda Crawford recently finished her canon law degree after nine years of classes

Published: September 8, 2023   
Katie Zakrzewski
Amanda Crawford, JCL, completed her final courses needed to receive her canon law degree Aug. 11. She is the tribunal moderator for the Diocese of Little Rock.

There may be only 24 hours in a day, but tribunal moderator Amanda Crawford makes the most of every minute. 

Crawford works in the Diocese of Little Rock’s tribunal office, which serves as the judicial branch of Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s governance of the diocese. The tribunal office largely oversees the status of marriages in the Church to determine eligibility for remarriage. As the tribunal moderator, Crawford oversees the paperwork and archives of the tribunal office. 

But on Aug. 11, Crawford achieved an accomplishment that she has been working on for nearly nine years — a canon law degree from the University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Canada.

“I’m waiting on one final grade to post on my transcript, and I’ll have JCL and MCL behind my name, which is (a licentiate of canon law and) a master of canon law from the University of Ottawa. St. Paul and the University of Ottawa work together,” Crawford said. “I’ll have a civil degree, and an ecclesiastical degree.”

The road to attaining these prestigious degrees in canon law was anything but easy for Crawford. A member of St. Patrick Church in North Little Rock, Crawford is a mother of three boys, ranging in age from 9 to 22. Her husband, Matt, retired from the U.S. Air Force Aug. 25. Between her kids’ extracurricular activities and her husband’s deployments, Crawford’s life was busy before she decided to pursue additional higher education. 

Crawford said shortly after being hired as the temporary secretary of the tribunal at the Diocese of Little Rock in 2014, she went on maternity leave with her youngest child. When she returned to work, she realized she had fallen in love with her job and was determined to excel in it. 

“It was a long academic road to get here, because I didn’t have a degree in theology, and to get into canon law school, you have to have some sort of theological education,” Crawford said.

Crawford said she had originally wanted to go to Newman University in Wichita, Kan., after graduating from high school, but instead she got married and started a family. The additional uncertainty of relocating for her husband’s deployment led to putting her love for Newman University on the backburner. 

Crawford found out that God works in mysterious ways.

“I went through the Little Rock Theology Institute to get my bachelor’s degree,” in theology, shortly after starting at the diocese in 2014, Crawford said. “The theology program started out through St. Gregory’s (University in Shawnee, Okla.), then they closed it and switched to Newman (University) for the second semester of my last year, so I got to graduate from the school that I originally wanted to go to.”

After receiving her bachelor’s in theology in 2018 from Newman University, Crawford completed a year of the master’s degree remotely before being accepted into the University of St. Paul’s four-year program for canon law school, which was completed remotely as well. She added the new degrees to her associate’s degree in business and bachelor’s degree in business she previously earned. 

Crawford said because she finished her coursework after the deadline to be considered for commencement in 2023, she will have to wait until June 2024 to walk across the graduation stage in Ottawa with several classmates.

But as soon as her transcript is finalized, Crawford can begin doing the work she has studied hard for. 

“Now that I am a canon lawyer … I will be one of the judges on our second instance cases,” Crawford said. “Cases that are judged in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and (are) appealed … come to our court to be looked at. Canon law says that if a case has a sole judge, they’re supposed to have assessors looking over it and helping the judge come to a decision, that the judge can bounce their thoughts off of. So Father Greg (Luyet, judicial vicar and judge of the tribunal) has me as an assessor on his sole judge cases now. …The tribunal wants me to start working as a judge, and I’m eager to start working and using my education.”

Crawford’s story is rare, as a wife and working mother in the canon law world, but she said the presence of women is increasing. Of her 16 classmates, 12 were men, two of whom were laypeople. The rest of her classmates were women. 

“The diocese is amazing with how much they support me … how much they need me and my perspective,” Crawford said. “They are absolutely, from Bishop Taylor down, 100 percent supportive, and it never would have happened if they hadn’t been.”

Crawford said she felt the weight of her busy schedule on her shoulders several times. But the people that she worked on behalf of kept her going.

“This can be a really hard line of work,” Crawford said. “But when people call me and say they had their Catholic marriage this weekend … when I go to Mass and I see people that I know have had some of these cases and I see them receiving Communion, and I see them in these happy, healthy marriages, that’s why I do it.”

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