Church’s Norms Are Universal, Says Pope

Urges Roman Rota to Greater Unity of Criteria

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2008 ( The Roman Rota should be increasingly characterized by unity, since the application of law in diverse cultures can tend to become distant from Church teaching, Benedict XVI says.

The Pope affirmed this today when he received in audience officials from the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the inauguration of the judicial year.

At the beginning of his address, the Holy Father said this year’s commemoration of the first centenary of the re-establishment of the apostolic tribunal of the Roman Rota, as endorsed by Pope St. Pius X in 1908, provided an appropriate occasion to reflect upon “the jurisprudence of the Rota within the context of the administration of justice within the Church.”

“Any juridical system must seek to offer solutions,” said the Pope. And in seeking such solutions, “apart from prudently assessing each individual case in its own uniqueness, the same general principles and norms of justice must be applied,” he said. “Only in this way is it possible to create a climate of trust around the tribunal’s activities and to avoid the arbitrariness of subjective criteria.”

“These considerations may be perfectly applied to ecclesiastical tribunals. […] The need for unity in the essential criteria of justice and the importance of being able to reasonably foresee the significance of judicial decisions, is a particularly important ecclesial good for the interior life the people of God and for their institutional testimony to the world.”

“Sentences must always be founded on shared principles and norms of justice,” said the Holy Father. He added that such a requirement, “which is common to all legal systems, has particular consequences for the Church” because what is at issue is communion. “This implies the protection of everything that is shared by the universal Church.”


Benedict XVI highlighted the Roman Rota’s notable achievements in the area of marriage over the last 100 years, indicating how the tribunal is still “called to undertake an arduous task that has great influence on the work of all other tribunals: that of determining the existence or otherwise of the married state, which is intrinsically anthropological, theological and juridical.”

“Law cannot be reduced to a mere collection of positive rules which tribunals are called to apply,” said the Pope. “The only solid foundation for legal work consists in conceiving of it as a real exercise in ‘prudentia iuris,’ a prudence that is nowise arbitrary or relativist. […] Only in this way do legal maxims acquire their true value and avoid becoming a compilation of abstract and repetitive laws, exposed to the risk of subjective and arbitrary interpretations.

“Hence, the objective assessment of the facts in the light of the magisterium of the Church constitutes an important aspect of the activity of the Roman Rota, and has great influence on the work of ministers of justice in the tribunals of local Churches.”

The Holy Father highlighted how, “through such work in the causes of nullity of marriage, concrete reality may be objectively judged in the light of criteria that constantly reaffirm the truth of indissoluble marriage, which is open to all men and women in accordance with the designs of God.”

The Pontiff noted that due to the universal nature of the Church and the diversity of juridical cultures in which it operates, “there is always a risk of the formation of ‘sensim sine sensu’ [local forms of jurisprudence], ever more distant from the common interpretation of positive laws and even from Church doctrine on matrimony.”

In this context, the Holy Father expressed the hope that attention be given to “the right ways to ensure that the jurisprudence of the Rota is ever more characterized by its unity, and is effectively accessible to all who work in justice, so as to find uniform application in all the tribunals of the Church.”

The contributions of the ecclesiastical magisterium concerning the juridical aspects of marriage, including talks by the Pontiff to the Rota, “must be considered from this realistic viewpoint,” said Benedict XVI. “They constitute an immediate guide for the work of all the tribunals of the Church, inasmuch as they teach with authority what is essential with respect to the married state.”

The Pope encouraged members of the Roman Rota to use this 100th anniversary as an occasion to increase their efforts “with an ever deeper ecclesial sense of justice, which is a true service to salvific communion.”

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