Following tradition, Pope Benedict addressed himself at the beginning of the year to the judges and other canonists of the Roman Rota, the court which deals primarily as the court of appeal for matrimonial nullity cases. This annual allocution is closely watched by canonists worldwide to give some sense of the direction the Pope and the Rota will take in the development of jurisprudence. Generally, the Pope gently corrects what he sees as deficiencies, or praises positive developments. This year’s allocution (VIS has excerpts translated into English <a href="http://126.96.36.199/news_services/press/vis/dinamiche/d0_en.htm">here</a>) was given on Saturday and follows the traditional form.
There is a lot to digest in this year’s allocution. Two significant moments last year in the canonical world were the issuance of the Instruction, Dignitas connubii in the Spring, and the comments made by a number of bishops at the Synod of Bishops regarding the difficulties faced by pastors dealing with those in irregular marriage situations. At the Synod, a number of Bishops urged swifter and "more pastoral" applications of the law to those who are divorced and remarried, so that their marital situation can be regularized and they can be readmitted to the Eucharistic banquet. In this, these Bishops echoed the concerns Pope Benedict himself expressed to the clergy of the diocese of Aosta while on vacation there in July:
We all know that this is a particularly painful problem for people who live in situations in which they are excluded from Eucharistic Communion, and naturally for the priests who desire to help these people love the Church and love Christ. This is a problem.
None of us has a ready-made formula, also because situations always differ. I would say that those who were married in the Church for the sake of tradition but were not truly believers, and who later find themselves in a new and invalid marriage and subsequently convert, discover faith and feel excluded from the Sacrament, are in a particularly painful situation. This really is a cause of great suffering and when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I invited various Bishops’ Conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly-complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further. "
"On the one hand, therefore, is the good of the community and the good of the Sacrament that we must respect, and on the other, the suffering of the people we must alleviate. " (<a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/july/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050725_diocesi-aosta_en.html">Meeting with the Diocesan Clergy of Aosta</a>
The Pope truly recognizes the pain of those who have suffered failed marriages, but at the same time recognizes the authentic teaching of the Church that marriage is permanent, and cannot simply be ended. The canonical process for determining the invalidity of marriage cannot be simply a tool for "sanctifying" a divorce – not every marriage proposed to the tribunal is invalid, and it would be a travesty of justice were that to be the case.
Especially in some conservative or traditional sectors of the Church, there is concern that too many marriages are declared null by the Church’s courts, that "annulments" are too easily handed out. I myself shared this concern before beginning my work in a tribunal. The tribunal of the Archdiocese of Detroit is one of the busiest tribunals in the U.S., and therefore, one of the busiest in the world. Instead of seeing judges annulling marriages willy-nilly, with little regard for the law or for the facts of the case, I’ve found priests, lay canonists, and office personnel truly concerned about the administration of justice, the search for truth, and an appropriate pastoral response to the situations we’re asked to face. True, a large number of marriages are found to be invalid, but I have not seen any incidents of justice being miscarried, or of callous disregard for the truth.
This is precisely what the Pope calls for in his recent Allocution: a diligent search for the truth. It’s often said that pastoral concerns and the demands of justice and law are two separate, even opposed concerns. As eminent a canonist as Joaquin Llobell of Santa Croce University <a href="http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=83144">recently seemed to adopt this view.</a> Yet Pope Benedict clearly demonstrates that true pastoral concern is synonymous with the demands for justice, in that they both have as their aim the search for truth. Highlighting the pastoral nature of tribunal work, the Pope expressed concern that Tribunals not be overly preoccuppied with the "le formalità giuridiche previste" the prescribed legal formalities, and neglect the pastoral end of the process. At the same time, Courts must have an appropriate understanding of what "pastoral" means – not, as is often interpretted, giving people whatever they ask for and declaring marriages null without sufficient proof (the Law requires that the judge have "moral certitude" based on the evidence presented that the marriage is null).
In the end, the Pope urged the Rota, and by analogy all those involved in tribunal work, to handled cases with appropriate speed and foster a love for the truth, for it is Truth Himself who should be our guide and goal.