Pope's Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota

«The function of law is guided towards the salus animarum on the condition that, avoiding sophisms distant from the living flesh of people in difficulty, it may help to establish the truth of the moment of consent»

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The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s address to the judges, lawyers and officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the solemn opening of the Judicial Year.

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Dear Judges, Officials, Lawyers and Collaborators of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota,

I greet you cordially, beginning with the College of Prelate Auditors with the Dean, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, whom I thank for the words with which he introduced our meeting. I wish you all well for the Judicial Year we open today.

On this occasion, I would like to reflect on the human and cultural context in which the matrimonial intention is formed. The crisis of values in society is certainly not a recent phenomenon. Forty years ago now Blessed Paul VI, addressing in fact the Roman Rota, stigmatized the sicknesses of modern man “at times wounded by a systematic relativism, that bends to the easiest choices of circumstance, of demagogy, of fashion, of passion, of hedonism, of selfishness, so that externally he attempts to dispute the mastery of the law, and internally, almost without realising, substitutes the empire of moral conscience with the whim of psychological consciousness” (Allocution of January 31, 1974: AAS 66 [1974], p. 87).

In fact, the abandonment of a perspective of faith results inexorably in a false knowledge of matrimony, which is not deprived of consequences in the maturation of the nuptial will. In his goodness, the Lord certainly grants the Church to rejoice for the many, many families that, supported and nourished by  sincere faith, realize in the effort and joy of the everyday the goods of marriage, assumed with sincerity at the moment of the wedding and pursued with fidelity and tenacity. However, the Church also knows the suffering of many family nuclei that disintegrate, leaving behind them the ruins of affective relations, plans, and common expectations.

The judge is called to carry out his judicial analysis where there is doubt regarding the validity of marriage, to ascertain whether there was an original shortcoming in consent, either directly in terms of a defect in the validity of intention or a grave deficit in the understanding of marriage itself to the extent of determining will (Cf. canon 1099). In fact, the crisis in marriage, indeed, not infrequently has at its root the crisis in knowledge enlightened by faith, or rather by adhesion to God and His plan of love realised in Jesus Christ.

Pastoral experience teaches us that today there is a great number of faithful in irregular situations, whose histories have been strongly influenced by the widespread worldly mentality. There exists, indeed, a sort of spiritual worldliness, “which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium), and which leads to the pursuit not of the glory of God, but rather of personal well-being. One of the consequences of this attitude is “a faith hemmed in by subjectivism, interested solely in a given experience or a series of arguments and areas of knowledge believed to console or enlighten, but in which the subject in reality remains imprisoned by the immanence of his or her own reason or emotions” (Ibid., 94]. It is evident that, for one who is inclined to this mentality, faith remains deprived of its directional and normative value, leaving the field open for compromises with one’s egoism and with the pressures of the current mentality, which has become dominant through the mass media.

Therefore, the judge, in evaluating the validity of the consent given, must take into account the context of values and faith – or of their scarcity or absence – in which the matrimonial intention was formed. In fact, ignorance of the contents of the faith could lead to what the Code calls error affecting the will (Cf. can. 1099). This eventuality is no longer held exceptional as in the past, given in fact the frequent prevalence of worldly thought on the teaching of the Church. Such error not only threatens the stability of a marriage, its exclusivity and fruitfulness, but also the ordering of marriage to the good of the other, conjugal love as “vital principle” of the consensus, the mutual donation to build the consortium of one’s whole life. “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. ” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 66, pushing the betrothed to mental reservation about the very permanence of the union, or its exclusivity, which would fail when the person loved no longer realizes his/her expectations of affective well-being

Therefore, I would like to exhort you to an increased and passionate commitment to your ministry, placed to protect the unity of the jurisprudence of the Church. How much pastoral work for the good of many couples, and many children, who are often the victims of these situations! Here too there is a need for pastoral conversion on the part of ecclesiastical structures (Cf. Ibid., 27),to be able to offer the opus iustitiae [work of justice] to all those who turn to the Church to shed light on their matrimonial situation. Here is your difficult mission, as it is for all the judges in the dioceses: do not ensnare salvation in the constrictions of legalism. The function of law is guided towards the salus animarum [salvation of souls]on the condition that, avoiding sophisms distant from the living flesh of people in difficulty, it may help to establish the truth of the moment of consent: if it was faithful to Christ or to the mendacious worldly mentality.

In this connection, Blessed Paul VI said: “If the Church is a divine design – Ecclesia de Trinitate – her institutions, though perfectible, must be established in order to communicate divine grace and foster, according to the gifts and mission of each one, the good of the faithful, essential purpose of the Church. This social objective, the salvation of souls, the salus animarum, remains the supreme objective of the institutions of law, of laws” (Address to the Participants in the 2nd International Congress of Canon Law, September 17, 1973: Communicationes 5 [1973], p. 126).

It is useful to recall what the Instruction Dignitas Connubili prescribes in n. 113, consistent with can. 1490 of the Code of Canon Law, about the necessary presence in every ecclesiastical Tribunal of persons competent in giving solicitous advice on the possibility of introducing a cause of matrimonial nullity; while the presence is also required of stable patrons, remunerated by the same tribunal, who exercise the office of lawyers.

In the hope that in every Tribunal these figures may be present to encourage real access to the justice of the Church for all the faithful, I would like to underline that a significant number of cases dealt with before the Roman Rota are enabled by legal aid granted to those whose economic situation would not otherwise allow them to engage the services of lawyer.

Dear brothers, I renew to each of you my gratitude for the good you do to the people of God, serving justice. I invoke divine assistance upon your work and I impart to you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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Junno Arocho Esteves

Newark, New Jersey, USA Bachelor of Science degree in Diplomacy and International Relations.

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