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Hope, not trepidation

· Interview with the Dean of the Roman Rota regarding the new procedural matrimonial norms ·

Msgr Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, one month after the 8 September promulgation of the two motu proprii that will enter into force 8 December — the same day as the opening of the Jubilee of Mercy —, spoke with L’Osservatore Romano. Issues discussed included the reestablishment of matrimonial processes with the motu proprii, the relationship between these documents and the two synods on marriage and the family, the expedition and simplification called for by bishops throughout the world, the centrality of the bishop’s role as judge and the reassessment of the rights of metropolitan tribunals. This is far reaching reform which, already in these early synod working sessions has been received favourably — the Dean himself underlines — as clear legislation intended to respond to the urgent needs of the faithful and from which the Pope foresees hope, not trepidation, will emerge.

Can a connection be made between the two papal documents and the synod?

The two motu proprii are the fruit of work undertaken in preparation for the synod and are an authentic expression of episcopal collegiality. As noted, prior to the two synod meetings there was a great deal of consultation. These documents have thus emerged from a broad collegial experience, and collected through the questionnaires sent out to all bishops’ conferences. From this came to light widespread agreement concerning the need to expedite and simplify matrimonial processes, as drawn out explicitly in number 115 of the Instrumentum laboris and as stated by Cardinals Baldisseri and Erdő in their respective addresses at the opening of the Synod.

What does it mean in practical terms to streamline and simplify processes?

Just as Pius x had previously set forth at the beginning of the 20th century, the present Pope means to fully reinstate the exercise of judicial power to the diocesan bishop and metropolitan, that is the archbishop, head of an ecclesiastical province. Pope Francis in this way seeks a greater closeness between the structures of the Church and her faithful.

What are the main points of this new legislation?

Pope Francis’ reform entrusts to every diocesan bishop two types of processes: the abbreviated and the ordinary. In the first case it is the bishop who personally judges whether or not there is enough evidence to declare nullity. Here, after a brief investigation, he affirms moral certainty and signs the sentence. However, it is not the bishop who conducts the investigation, but rather others who work in collaboration with him, namely the judicial vicar or other investigating judges. If instead there is no immediate proof of nullity, the case is subjected to the ordinary procedure. For this each bishop must establish a diocesan tribunal for matrimonial nullities. They are to be collegial but if otherwise impossible, one judge may suffice. In concrete terms, each request for a declaration of marriage nullity is directed to the diocesan judicial vicar who decides by which of the two processes each case must be resolved. The abbreviated process provides for the possibility of both parties to be present — as opposed to the ordinary process — and must be resolved within a time frame that may range from two weeks to a month. These aspects demonstrate the major innovation of this type of procedure, which by no coincidence has been personally entrusted by the Successor of Peter to the individual bishop so that these processes do not succumb to abuse and thereby harm the truth regarding the marriage bond. By committing these abuses, the bishop would in fact not betray the Pope, but rather Christ himself. And providing both processes free of charge, as the motu proprii strongly encourage, will clearly show the pastoral spirit of these processes, which seek only the good of the faithful, and which directly comprehend the spirit of poverty that must inspire the Church.

Is this legislation retroactive?

As noted, the new judicial norms will enter into force on 8 December and will not have retroactive effect. However, for those cases already underway and whose sentences regarding nullity are given and noticed after 8 December the effects of the reform will be applied and the affirmative sentences will be definitive.

What will happen to the regional tribunals?

This legislation reestablishes and reorganizes ex integro the matrimonial process, giving the bishop the right to assemble his diocesan tribunal. The legislation establishing regional tribunals no longer stands, which exist after all only in certain countries. Within individual ecclesiastical provinces, bishops will instead have the faculty to establish, if they see fit, an interdiocesan tribunal with appeal to the metropolitan tribunal, notwithstanding the possibility of creating interdiocesan tribunals of multiple provinces, according to the law.

How would you explain the meaning of this centrality of the bishop as judge?

I will answer with an example. In certain circumstances the bishop, as pastor and judge of his flock, might personally issue a sentence affirming nullity to the interested parties. It would be a sign of his evangelical closeness to the faithful, who in many cases are marked by years of suffering. Indeed, the Church is mystery and the bishop accompanies the faithful, as if guiding them each by hand. In this sense he is the mystagogue, as were Basil and John Chrysostom in the East, and Ambrose and Augustine in the West. (g.m.v.)

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