On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI met with law officials from the Tribunal of the Roman Rota--the Holy See’s governing body of law--telling them that law and law officials need to be guided, above all, by love for truth.
The dean, judges, promoters of justice, defenders of the bond, as well as the Tribunal’s lawyers and officials were all in attendance for the audience as they prepare for the inauguration of their judicial year.
In his address to them, Pope Benedict called to mind the legacy of John Paul II, and what the Pope called his vast legacy of teachings on the subject of canon law.
The Pope specifically noted the Instruction "Dignitas connubii", which concerns proper procedures to be followed in cases of nullity of marriage.
He said that "The greatest contribution of this Instruction, which I trust is fully applied by ecclesial tribunals, consists in indicating the measure and manner in which, in causes of the nullity of marriage, the norms contained in the respective canons ... should be applied, while observing the special norms for causes concerning the state of persons, or for causes concerning the public good."
The Pope pointed out that, during last October's Synod on the Eucharist, the Synod Fathers had "called on ecclesiastical courts to make every effort to ensure that members of the faithful not canonically married may, as soon as possible, regularize their domestic situations" and so resume communion.
He said on the other hand, however, that "canonical legislation and the recent Instruction would seem would seem to place limits on that pastoral proposal, as if the principle concern were to fulfill the legal formalities, while losing sight of the pastoral aims of the legal process.”
“Concealed behind such an approach”, he explained, “is a supposed conflict between law and pastoral care in general."
Love for truth; Sacramentality of marriage
The Pope told the group that "In this my first meeting with you, I prefer to concentrate on an aspect that represents the main point of agreement between law and pastoral care: love for truth."
In this context then, he stressed that "the aim of a court hearing is the declaration of truth by an impartial third party," after both sides have been offered a chance to present their case "in an appropriate space for discussion.”
“All legal systems must tend,” he said, “to ensure the objectivity, timeliness and effectiveness of the judges' decisions."
Benedict pointed out however, that the courts sometimes find themselves dealing with matters "that lie beyond the domain of the parties concerned, in as much as [such matters] concern the rights of the entire ecclesial community."
It is here, he said, that "causes for declaring the nullity of marriage fall. Indeed, marriage in its dual dimension - natural and sacramental - is not something of which the spouses can dispose at will nor, given its social and public character, is it possible to imagine some form of self-declaration."
The Pope emphasized that "no court hearing is per se 'against' the other party, as if the aim were to inflict some form of unjust punishment."
Rather, "The aim of the hearing”, he said, “is…to declare the truth concerning the validity or invalidity of a specific marriage; in other words to pronounce on the reality that lies at the very foundation of the institution of the family, and that is of maximum concern to the Church and to civil society."
The Pope said that "the criterion of the search for truth" leads us to consider another aspect of the legal question: "its pastoral value, which cannot be separated from the love for truth.”
“Indeed,” he affirmed, “it can happen that pastoral charity sometimes becomes contaminated by complacent attitudes towards others. Such attitudes may seem pastoral, but in reality they do not respond to the good of individuals, or to that of the ecclesial community."
He stressed that "The truth sought in causes of the nullity of marriage is not ... an abstract truth, one completely removed from the good of individuals.”
“It is a truth”, he said, “that is an integral part of the human and Christian journey of each faithful. Thus, it is extremely important that the declaration [of that truth] should come about in a reasonable span of time."
Pope Benedict also stressed to the officials their grave obligation to "bring the institutional activity of the Church in her tribunals ever closer to the faithful,” as well as to "seek to prevent nullity of marriage," and “to help spouses resolve their difficulties and find a way of reconciliation."
The Holy Father concluded his address to the Tribunal saying that he hoped his words "serve to help you better understand how the love for truth links the institution of canonical causes of the nullity of marriage with the authentic pastoral sensibility that must animate such causes.”
“Seen in this light, the Instruction 'Dignitas connubii' and the concerns that emerged from the recent Synod, are in complete harmony," he said.