.- On Saturday, in the Vatican, the Holy Father received the dean, prelate auditors, officials, and lawyers of the tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Vatican office which oversees worldwide requests for annulments, for the inauguration of the judicial year.
The Holy Father, who traditionally receives the group in late January, reflected this year on the moral dimension of the activity of judges in ecclesiastical tribunals, "especially regarding their duty to abide by the truth about marriage, as it is taught by the Church."
"Individual and collective interests," said the Pope, "can, indeed, induce the parties to resort to various kinds of falsehood and even corruption with the aim of obtaining a favorable sentence.”
There is no immunity from this risk, even for canonical hearings which seek the truth concerning the existence or non-existence of matrimony."
John Paul II highlighted the fact that, "in the name of supposed pastoral requirements, some voices have been raised to propose declaring the annulment of unions that have failed completely.”
“To obtain this outcome,” he said, “it has been suggested using expedients to maintain outward procedural appearances, and hide the absence of a true judicial process. In this way, there is a temptation to impose and find proof for a decree of annulment in contrast with the most elementary principles of the Church's norms and Magisterium."
The Holy Father went on: "The objective juridical and moral danger of such behavior is clear, and it certainly does not constitute a pastorally valid solution to the problems raised by matrimonial crises."
The Pope recalled how in various addresses to the Roman Rota, he had referred to the "essential relationship that its proceedings have with the search for objective truth.”
“Responsibility for this falls,” the Pope said, “in the first place, on bishops, who by divine law are the judges of their communities." Bishops must also "consider the suitability of members of the tribunals ... and assess whether the sentences are in conformity with right doctrine."
The Pope stressed that a judge must be "convinced that the truth exists," he must "resist fear of the truth," and not allow himself to be "conditioned by feelings of false compassion, or by false trends of thought, though they be widespread.”
He knows that unjust sentences never constitute a true pastoral solution, and that the judgment of God on his own actions is what counts over eternity."
John Paul II pointed out that a judge must "keep to canonical laws, correctly interpreted," without "separating the laws of the Church from magisterial teachings, as if they belonged to two different spheres of which the first is the only one to have juridically binding force, while the second is merely for guidance and encouragement. Such an approach reveals a positivist mentality."
"One important moment in the search for truth is that of the preliminary investigation and hearing." On this subject, the Pope added that, although prompt judicial proceedings are "a person's right, nonetheless a false rapidity, at the expense of truth, is even more seriously unjust."