Justice and Mercy in Church Marriage Law

Experts Discuss Correct Pastoral Approach Ahead of Synod

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In the run up to the October Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family, experts in Church marriage law came together in Rome this week to discuss the theme ‘Pastoral Marriage: Justice and Mercy, Antidotes Against ‘Laxism’ and ‘Rigorism’”.

The study day at the University of the Holy Cross on May 22 aimed to show how justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin in the Church’s marriage law, which avoid “laxism” and “rigorism” in the pastoral approach to marriage.

Professor Carlos Jose Errazuriz explained that very often mercy and law are perceived as “radically antithetical,” as two separate worlds that follow opposite logics: “kind, flexible and compassionate love on one hand, and a system of rigid norms that ignores the most intimate personal needs of the other.” Instead, between these two virtues there is “a profoundly harmonious interlacement”: “it is necessary to discover the incentive of justice which is enclosed in true Christian mercy.” There is no mercy without justice.

Professor Denis Biju-Duval, president of the Redemptor Hominis Pastoral Institute, expressed himself along this same line. For him, “a mercy that gives a pretext to the refusal to be converted would be neither just nor merciful; nor would a conversion considered as a purely human assumption to the possibility of benefitting from mercy.” It is, rather, about the “drifts” of which the pastoral suffers, made of “laxism” on one hand and “moralism” on the other.

A concrete manifestation of justice and mercy evidenced by Professor Eduardo Baura, Ordinary of Canon Law at the Holy Cross [University], consists in not limiting oneself “to the automatic application of the general law,” but to care for individual personal needs, “always in respect of the rights of the faithful directly concerned and of those of the Christian community.”

However, the risk exists of confusing mercy with a sentimentalism which leads to not addressing the problems in depth, to not eliminating the evils, because that would be costly, or to remove them, causing other worse ones. In short, “the sentimentalist slogan easily produces a result, as the truth is not sought but the immediate sentiment.”

On the subject of pastoral care of divorced faithful who have remarried civilly, Professor Miguel Angel Ortiz reminded that “it is necessary to distinguish the moral responsibility for the choices of the past from today’s situation.” In the concrete case of admission to Eucharistic communion, what makes it incompatible is not past faults but “the eventual present will to live in contradiction” with the communal meaning of marriage and of the Eucharist. In this regard, “the Church must have a merciful attitude, which helps to receive God’s mercy, aware that the first act of this mercy is to tell one another the truth and to live according to the truth.”

A particular aspect of mercy was expounded by Professor Benedict Ndubueze Ejeh, of the Saint Pius X Faculty of Canon Law of Venice, who reflected on the “preventive character” of mercy in the matrimonial ambit. Mercy is already exercised in the phase in which the spouses ask for admission to the nuptials. “For the good of the spouses, of the family and of the civil and ecclesial society, mercy is not and must not be, only curative. It is very important that in the matrimonial ambit mercy is of a preventive character.”

Among the many aspects that will have to be addressed in the course of the forthcoming Synods on the family, there were some that emerged during the interventions of the day , which were addressed also by Professor Paolo Bianchi, of the Lombard Regional Ecclesiastical Tribunal, and Professor Nikolaus Schoch, of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura – always from the angle “of true harmony between mercy and law”: discernment of the truth on the spouses’ vocational plan, positive support to families “so that they carry out the mission of the Church,” closeness in the trial and in the eventual search for reconciliation, the search for the truth in the process of marriage annulment, credible testimony of fidelity to the Gospel of indissoluble marriage.


University of the Holy Cross

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