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​ The Bishop is father,
head and judge of the faithful

· ​The Pope clarifies several fundamental aspects of the new marriage process ·

The Bishop is father, head and judge of the faithful. Pope Francis offered this reminder on Saturday morning, 25 November, to members of the Apostolic Tribunal and participants in a training course for clerics and the laity regarding the new marriage annulment process. The Pope received the group in the Clementine Hall after the conclusion of the course sponsored by the Roman Rota. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s remarks.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to meet you at the conclusion of the training course for clerics and laity promoted by the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the theme: The new marriage process and the ‘Super Rato’ procedure. I thank the Dean, Msgr Pinto, for the words he addressed to me. The course that has taken place here in Rome, as well as those being held in other dioceses, are praiseworthy initiatives which I encourage, as they enable one to acquire relevant knowledge and to exchange experiences at various ecclesial levels regarding important canonical procedures.

In particular, it is necessary to pay close attention and devote proper analysis to the two recent Motu Proprios: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus, in order to apply the new procedures that they establish. These two provisions arose from a synodal context; they follow a synodal method, and consequently they are the result of a serious synodal journey. Faced with the thorniest questions concerning the evangelizing mission and the salvation of souls, it is important that the Church increasingly recover the synodal praxis of the first community in Jerusalem, where Peter, together with the other Apostles and with the whole community under the action of the Holy Spirit, sought to act according to the commandment of the Lord Jesus.

This is what was also done in the Synodal Assemblies on the Family, in which, in the spirit of communion and fraternity, representatives of the episcopate from all over the world gathered in assembly to listen to the voice of the communities, to discuss, reflect and carry out the work of discernment. The purpose of the Synod was to promote and defend the Christian family and marriage for the greater good of spouses faithful to the covenant celebrated in Christ. It also aimed to study the situation and development of the family in today’s world, marriage preparation, ways to help those suffering due to the failure of their marriage, the education of children, and other issues.

As you return to your communities, strive to be missionaries and witnesses to the synodal spirit that is at their origin, as well as to the pastoral consolation that is the purpose of this new matrimonial norm, to confirm the faith of the holy People of God through charity. May the synodal spirit and pastoral consolation become the form of your action in the Church, especially in a field as sensitive as that of the family in search of the truth regarding the conjugal state of the spouses. In this endeavour, may you each be a loyal collaborator of your Bishop, who plays a decisive role with regard to the new norms, especially in the short process, as he is the “innate judge” of the particular Church.

In your service, you are called to express closeness to the isolation and suffering of the faithful who are awaiting ecclesial justice to provide competent and valid help so as to regain their peace of mind and the will of God on readmission to the Eucharist. Hence the necessity and value of the Course you have attended — and I hope that others may be organized — in order to foster a just approach to the issue and an ever broader and deeper study of the new marriage process. It is an expression of the Church that is able to welcome and care for those who are wounded in various ways by life; and at the same time it is a reminder of the commitment to defend the sacredness of the marriage bond.

In order to make the application of the new law of the marriage process — two years since its promulgation — a cause and reason for salvation and peace for the great number of faithful wounded in their matrimonial situation, I have decided, as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, to definitively clarify some of the fundamental aspects of the two Motu Proprios, in particular the role of the diocesan Bishop as the personal and sole judge in the Processus breviore.

The diocesan Bishop has always been Iudex unum et idem cum Vicario iudiciali; but since this principle has been interpreted in a de facto manner excluding the diocesan Bishop from the personal exercise of his office by delegating almost everything to the Tribunals, I hereby establish what I consider determinative and exclusive to the personal exercise of the Bishop as diocesan judge:

1. The diocesan Bishop is, by virtue of his pastoral office, the personal and sole judge in the abbreviated process.

2. Therefore the role of the diocesan Bishop-judge is the architrave, the constitutional principle and discriminating element of the entire abbreviated process, established by the two Motu Proprios.

3. The abbreviated process requires, ad validitatem, two inseparable conditions: membership in the episcopate and status as head of a diocesan community of faithful (cf. can 381 § 2). If either of the two conditions is lacking, the abbreviated process cannot take place. The instance must be adjudicated through the ordinary process.

4. The exclusive and personal competence of the diocesan Bishop, established in the fundamental criteria of the abbreviated process, makes direct reference to the ecclesiology of Vatican II, which reminds us that the Bishop alone already has, in consecration, the fullness of all the power which is ad actum expedita through the missio canonica.

5. The abbreviated process is not an option that the diocesan Bishop can choose but is an obligation that comes to him by way of his consecration and the mission received. He has exclusive competence in the three phases of the abbreviated process:

the instance is always addressed to the diocesan Bishop;

the investigation, as I stated in the discourse of 12 March 2016 at the Course of the Roman Rota, is led by the Bishop, “always assisted by the judicial Vicar or by other investigator, even lay, by the assessor, and ever present the defender of the bond”. Should the Bishop be without clerics or lay canonists, the charity, which characterizes the episcopal office, of a vicinione (neighbouring) Bishop can assist him for the time necessary. Moreover, I recall that the abbreviated process must be closed customarily in a single session, requiring as an essential condition the utmost clarity of facts corroborating the alleged nullity of the marriage, in addition to the consent of the two spouses;

the decision is to be pronounced coram Domino always and only by the diocesan Bishop;

6. Entrusting the entire abbreviated process to the inter-diocesan Tribunal (be it of the viciniore or other dioceses) would lead to the distortion of facts and diminish the figure of the Bishop father, head and judge of his faithful, to a mere signatory of the sentence.

7. Mercy, one of the fundamental criteria that ensure salus, requires that the diocesan Bishop initiate the abbreviated process as quickly as possible; should he then feel unprepared to implement it immediately, he must remand the case to the ordinary process, which, however, must be conducted with due attentiveness.

8. Closeness and gratuitousness, as I have said many times, are the two pearls needed by the poor, whom the Church must love above all things.

9. With regard to the competence of the Metropolitan or of the Bishop indicated in the new can. 1687, in receiving an appeal contesting an affirmative sentence in the abbreviated process, it is specified that the new law has conferred upon the Dean of the Rota a new and therefore fundamental potestas decidendi regarding the rejection or admission of the appeal.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate clearly that this occurs without seeking the permission or authorization of another Institution or of the Apostolic Signatura.

Dear brothers and sisters, I offer my heartfelt good wishes for this study and for the ecclesial service of each one of you. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you. Please do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.

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