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Pope's Address to Members of Roman Rota

2/15/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Love for the Truth, the Meeting Point Between Canon Law and Pastoral Ministry"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Jan. 28 to the members of the tribunal of the Roman Rota.

* * *

Clementine Hall

Distinguished Prelate Auditors,
Officials and Collaborators of the
Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota,

Almost a year has passed since your Tribunal's last meeting with my beloved Predecessor, John Paul II. It was the last in a long series of meetings. Of the great legacy of canon law that he has also bequeathed to us, I would like in particular to focus on the instruction "Dignitas Connubii," on the procedures to follow in handling causes of the nullity of marriage. It was intended to set out a sort of "vademecum" which not only contains the respective norms in force on this subject but enriches them with further, relevant measures necessary for their correct application.

The greatest contribution of this Instruction, which I hope will be applied in its entirety by those who work in the ecclesiastical tribunals, consists in pointing out, in the causes of matrimonial nullity, the extent and manner in which to apply the norms contained in the canons concerning ordinary contentious judgment, as well as the observance of the special norms dictated for causes on the state of persons and for the public good.

As you well know, the attention dedicated to trials of the nullity of marriage increasingly transcends the context of experts. In fact, for many of the faithful, ecclesiastical sentences in this sector bear upon whether or not they may receive Eucharistic Communion.

It is this very aspect, so crucial from the viewpoint of Christian life, which explains why the subject of the nullity of marriage arose again and again at the recent Synod on the Eucharist. It might seem at first glance that there is a great divergence between the pastoral concern shown during the Synod's work and the spirit of the collection of juridical norms in "Dignitas Connubii," almost to the point of their being in opposition.

On the one hand, it would appear that the Synod Fathers were asking the ecclesiastical tribunals to strive to ensure that members of the faithful who are not canonically married regularize their marital situation as soon as possible and return to the Eucharistic Banquet.

On the other, canonical legislation and the recent Instruction would seem instead to limit this pastoral thrust, as though the main concern were rather to proceed with the foreseen juridical formalities at the risk of forgetting the pastoral aim of the process.

This approach conceals a false opposition between law and pastoral ministry in general. Here, I do not intend to go deeply into this issue which John Paul II already treated on several occasions, especially in his address to the Roman Rota in 1990 (cf. Jan. 18, 1990; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ORE], Jan. 29, 1990, p. 6).

At this first meeting with you, I prefer to concentrate on love for the truth, which is the fundamental meeting point between canon law and pastoral ministry. With this affirmation, moreover, I associate myself in spirit with precisely what my venerable Predecessor said to you in his address last year (Jan. 29, 2005; ORE, Feb. 2, p. 3).

The canonical proceedings for the nullity of marriage are essentially a means of ascertaining the truth about the conjugal bond. Thus, their constitutive aim is not to complicate the life of the faithful uselessly, nor far less to exacerbate their litigation, but rather to render a service to the truth.

Moreover, the institution of a trial in general is not in itself a means of satisfying any kind of interest but rather a qualified instrument to comply with the duty of justice to give each person what he or she deserves.

Precisely in its essential structure, the trial is instituted in the name of justice and peace. In fact, the purpose of the proceedings is the declaration of the truth by an impartial third party, after the parties have been given equal opportunities to support their arguments and proof with adequate room for discussion. This exchange of opinions is normally necessary if the judge is to discover the truth, and consequently, to give the case a just verdict. Every system of trial must therefore endeavor to guarantee the objectivity, speed and efficacy of the judges' decisions.

In this area too, the relationship between faith and reason is of fundamental importance. If the case corresponds with right reason, the fact that the Church has recourse to legal proceedings to resolve inter-ecclesial matters of a juridical kind cannot come as a surprise. A tradition has thus taken shape which is now centuries old and has been preserved in our day in ecclesiastical tribunals throughout ...

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