Implementing and Observing
Pio Vito Pinto*
On the papal rescript 'ex audientia' regarding the reform of annulment procedures introduced in August by Francis
The closeness of the Church
On Monday, 7 December , Pope Francis signed and then consigned to the Dean of the Roman Rota a rescript ex audientia regarding the implementation of the recent reform to the Church’s process for annulment. The decree addresses the role of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, which is the Church’s highest appellate court. The rescript has six main points, most dealing with technical matters of legal procedure within the Rota, and with the relationship of the Rota to other courts in the Church’s legal system. The rescript affirms in its preamble the desire to serve the supreme law, which is the salvation of souls, and that all the Church’s legal structures serve therefore as vehicles of reconciliation and renewal for the faithful.
In the introductory report with which he opened the Ordinary Synod, Cardinal Erdő outlined one of the main objectives of the Synod Assembly. Indeed, the Cardinal stated that, “By virtue of the sacrament of marriage the Christian family becomes an asset for the Church, but its inclusion in the context of the Church is also beneficial to the family, which receives help on the spiritual and communitarian levels and also in times of difficulty, help in safeguarding the matrimonial union and in discerning the respective obligations or eventual shortcomings”.
The reality and mission of the Church as defined by the divine Founder himself, Jesus Christ, thus was clear to the Synod Fathers. The Church viator is not the Church of people who are perfect, but rather the community of faithful who daily recognize themselves as sinners and thus in need of conversion, a point Pope Francis stresses in his ecclesiology.
Thus, the Synod taught that the great number of wounded faithful, or those who find it difficult to adhere to the truths of the Gospel in the practice of the faith, do not represent a burden but an opportunity. Many of these “wounded”, once reconciled and healed, are ready to become true missionaries of the beauty of the conjugal sacrament and of the Christian family. It is fitting to once again quote the words of Cardinal Erdő: ‘The practical insertion of Christian marriage and the family into the reality of the Church requires the ecclesial community to look mercifully and realistically upon those faithful who cohabitate or live only in civil marriage because they do not feel prepared to celebrate the sacrament, given the difficulties that such a decision can entail today. If the community is able to demonstrate that it is open to these people in the different situations of life, and clearly present the truth about matrimony, this could help these faithful to decide to choose sacramental marriage”.
The rescript issued by Pope Francis on the reform of the marriage process set forth in the two motu proprii of 15 August 2015 is a clear demonstration that the juridical reform is perfectly consistent with the ecclesiological vision of his Pontificate, as clearly confirmed by his actions in recent weeks after he has steadily delineated as much in his Magisterium since the beginning.
In the homily of the opening Mass of the Jubilee Year on 8 December, the Pontiff expressed his full adherence to the Second Vatican Council: “A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self- enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God”.
Even before this in the important commemorative speech on the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis summarized this conciliar ecclesiology, highlighting that the hierarchical role of the Roman Pontiff is aimed at service and is expressed as “the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesia, ‘the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church’”.
The pontifical rescript, published on Friday, 11 December, is divided in two parts and is based on this ecclesiological foundation, definitively interpreting and integrating the two motu proprii.
In the first part, since there is understandable resistance to any landmark legislation like the law of reform of the marriage process, the Pope wished to reiterate — as occurred with John Paul II in the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983 — that the law has indeed been promulgated and it must be observed (see Apostolic Constitution Sacra Disciplinae Leges). Pope Francis’ current rescript, much like John Paul II’s promulgation of the Code, conforms to the lex suprema, which is the salus animarum, of which the Successor of Peter is the first teacher and servant.
The second part of the rescript specifically regards the Roman Rota as the Apostolic Tribunal, which has always been noted for the sapentia of its jurisprudential decisions, which refers to the formula of generic doubt. (Instead the lower tribunals have the obligation to articulate specific doubt, such as the exclusion of offspring.) This manifests, in terms of the ecclesial diakonia, the solicitousness of justice in its twofold sacredness: on the one hand, it is the very defence of the truth of the marriage bond, and on the other it is the right of the baptized person to receive from the Church the prompt and gratuitous declaration of such truth of the bond itself.
*Dean of the Roman Rota
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18-25 December 2015, page 20
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