Pope receives briefing on activities at Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, April 22, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, April 22, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- During his visit to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts last week, Pope Francis was updated on the office's important work, which is focused on interpreting the laws of the Church.

As part of his tour of various dicasteries in the Roman Curia, the Pope on June 1 visited the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, followed by the Congregations for the Causes of Saints, Bishops, and Divine Worship.

Upon his arrival at the pontifical council, Francis was greeted by the council's president, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who is a member of the commission established in August 2014 to prepare a proposal of the reform of the marriage annulment process. The commission is meant to simplify and streamline the procedure while safeguarding the indissolubility of marriage, and its work was mentioned during the meeting.

An official from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts recalled how the Holy Father, once greeted by the cardinal as well as the secretary, Bishop Juan Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, and the undersecretary, Msgr. Markus Graulich, went on to greet each person present in a “very cordial manner” by shaking their hands and chatting with them. In all, there were 12 persons present at the meeting with the Pope, including seven officials and two ushers.

In his welcoming address to the Pope, Cardinal Coccopalmerio gave an overview of the works and projects currently going on at the dicastery, and presented a brief reflection on the meaning of canon law.

He stressed that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is not itself a legislator, but rather assists the Pope, who is the Church's supreme legislator, in his role of promoting canon law.

The task “is not easy,” the cardinal said, and explained that it includes suggesting to the Pope which legislative actions would be “appropriate to carry out,” and which are no longer relevant.

Every law, he said, “is essentially an indication of love. And, more profoundly, it's an indication of love for a person in need – in other words, for the poor.”

If a law is not an indication of love then it can’t be considered a law, he said, but is rather an empty and “even downright dangerous” formulation.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio also noted the importance of the pontifical council in making sure that the order of canon law is effectively applied.

“It would be useless to have good laws if then these are not applied, or are forgotten or contradicted with a practice that doesn’t comply. Hence an attentive vigilance.”

This vigilance is applied particularly in judging the legitimacy of new norms that the various actors in the Church, beginning with the Roman Curia, are constantly producing.

A recent example the cardinal indicated was the statutes for the Secretariat for the Economy, which were reviewed by the pontifical council before being sent to the Pope. They officially went into effect March 1.

Among the projects the pontifical council is currently working on is a revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which regards sanctions in the Church. The revision was commissioned by Benedict XVI, with the purpose of updating the canons regarding delicts and penalties.

The commission charged with proposing reforms to the marriage annulment process was also discussed.

In a Feb. 19 interview with CNA, Bishop Arrieta spoke about his dicastery’s work in developing options to better facilitate the marriage process ahead of October’s Synod on the Family.

He said part of the ongoing project has involved discussion of “how to correctly abbreviate the marriage annulment process, how to validate a marriage that took place, and that the spouses, as husband and wife, wanted it to be true, how to facilitate things.”

Bishop Arrieta said then that the annulment process can “certainly” be faster, and that his dicastery is currently “exploring ways to facilitate” this.

He noted that the gratuity of annulments is also a point of discussion, saying that making them free of charge presents challenges because “these things cost money.”

“The tribunal has to employ staff,” he explained: “the secretary, the lay judge, who could be the father of a family that needs to bring money home, so we have to pay him. This is what costs money,” he said.

A Vatican official noted to CNA that the Pope was also informed at the June 1 meeting that while canon law discusses extensively the sacrament of marriage, “it does not have canons dealing with the family per se.” Thus the pontifical council is seeking to develop proposals for norms addressing the wider theme of the family, “including those that would govern the rights and duties of Catholic families.”

At the meeting during the Roman Pontiff’s visit, the harmonization of the codes of canon law for the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches was also discussed, since there are “some examples of contrasting canons,” noted the official who was present.

“For example, in the Latin Code, the couple celebrating marriage are actually ministers of their sacrament, while the priest is a witness; in the Eastern Code, it's the priest who is the minister who effects the sacrament, not the couple.”  

A task of the pontifical council is therefore to ensure that both codes better reflect their common theological foundations, while still maintaining the unique qualities of each tradition, he said.

Moreover, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts also seeks a wider knowledge of canon law throughout the Church.

Throughout the presentation, the official recalled, Pope Francis “listened intently…and nodded in approval after each point made.”  

“It was clear that the Holy Father only wanted to listen and provide a chance for us to interact with him,” he said, explaining that “without lengthy responses or observations,” the Holy Father immediately opened the floor for everyone to comment or ask questions.

Each person then introduced himself and spoke to the Pope about a particular aspect of legislative activities within the pontifical council. Francis responded by giving “short, practical, and to the point answers, typical of his style,” the official said.  

“The Pope really struck a chord with me when he kept reminding us that behind each letter of the law is a face, a person with a name, and hence the person must be always kept at the center of the Church’s juridical activity,” he added.

Examining a document of the pontifical council which showed how requests for canonical interventions and clarifications of the law arrive daily from across the world, the Pope alluded briefly to the numerous petitions he himself receives every day, and noted that behind each of them “is a real person in need.”  

“The Holy Father believes that communicating the mercy of God will help people love the law and appreciate its value as a guiding tool in their spiritual journey,” the official said.

On the general topic of the reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis indicated that he prefers to listen more than to talk in the discussions, so that he can better appreciate the situation. The Pope, the official said, “is confident that the reform is going well. He trusts his collaborators … to help him in the process.”

At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis was presented with books on canon law; he then “made everyone laugh” with a joke about how fast the time had gone by and that the other group downstairs [the Congregation for the Causes of Saints] must have been wondering whether the Pope would arrive.

Those present at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts were quite impressed by Pope Francis’ “informal, down to earth, and very pastoral style during the visit,” the official noted.
 

Tags: Synod on the Family, Marriage indissolubility, Marriage process