Members of the Roman Rota, the second highest Church court, met with Pope Benedict this Friday to inaugurate their 100th year of service. Benedict XVI exhorted them in his address to protect the communion of the Church by applying a uniform standard of justice to the cases they hear.
Pointing to the fact that the court is celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Pontiff asked the jurists 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. 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," the Pope continued.
"Sentences must always be founded on shared principles and norms of justice." said the Holy Father adding that such a requirement, "which is common to all legal systems, has particular consequence for the Church" because what is at issue is communion. "This implies the protection of everything that is shared by the Universal Church", and is "especially entrusted to the Supreme Authority and to the bodies that 'ad normam iuris' participate in its sacred power".
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 which 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.”
The Holy Father also stressed an area that is particularly sensitive in the United States, that of annulments. He said that juridical standards must be uniformly applied to annulment cases so that, “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".
Due to the universal nature of the Church and the diversity of juridical cultures in which she operates, said the Pope, "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, in as much as they teach with authority what is essential with respect to the married state".
In closing his address to them, the Pope encouraged members of the Roman Rota to use this hundredth anniversary as an occasion to increase their efforts "with an ever deeper ecclesial sense of justice, which is a true service to salvific communion".