Pope John Paul II's Address to the Roman Rota

Author: ZENIT




Rather, They Must Be at Service of Family, He Contends


What must a lawyer do when a client asks his services to obtain a divorce, at times for shameful reasons?

John Paul II answered this question today when he met with lawyers and judges of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Vatican institution empowered to pass sentence on declarations of marital nullity.

The Pontiff addressed a common situation: Lawyers are paid to put an end to marriages, a circumstance that also troubles the conscience of judges, who must pass judgment on such sentences.

The Holy Father began by expressing a basic principle: "Agents of law in the civil area must avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply cooperation with divorce."

"In exercising a liberal profession, lawyers can always decline to use their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, such as divorce," the Pope clarified.

"They can only collaborate in an action of this kind when, in keeping with the client's intentions, it is not directed to the rupture of marriage, but to other legitimate effects, which can only be attained by a specific juridical ruling through the judicial avenue," he said.

No. 2383 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that "if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense."

So the Holy Father made it clear that the lawyer's task is not to destroy families, but to help people "undergoing marital crises" to be reconciled.

In this way, "lawyers truly become servers of individuals' rights, and avoid becoming simple technicians at the service of any interest," John Paul II clarified.

The situation of judges is more complicated because, as the Holy Father acknowledged, "juridical rulings do not recognize an objection of conscience that would exempt them from pronouncing a sentence."

"Therefore, for grave and proportional reasons they can act according to the traditional principles of material cooperation in evil," the Pope explained. "However, they must also find the effective means to favor marital unions, especially through a wisely conducted effort at conciliation." ZE02012806


Indissolubility of Marriage Is Foundation of Every Society, He Says


If marriage is not forever, it is not marriage, and without marriage the family, the very foundation of society, is undermined, John Paul II said today, when suggesting positive ways to combat the "divorce" mentality.

"The view of the indissolubility as a limitation to the liberty of the partners and, consequently, as a weight that at times can become unbearable, must be surmounted," the Holy Father said when evaluating last year's activities of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, which among other things passes judgments on sentences of marital nullity.

John Paul II explained to the judges and lawyers that in this field, the challenge for the Church and for those who believe in conjugal love consists in making a "positive presentation of the indissoluble union in order to rediscover its beauty."

This will be achieved, the Pope added, if this beauty is witnessed "by families, 'domestic churches' in which the husband and wife recognize mutually that they are bound to one another forever, with a bond that calls for an ever-renewed and generous love that is disposed to sacrifice."

"It is not possible to give in to the divorce mentality," the Holy Father told the members of the tribunal, while encouraging them to defend the beauty of marriage in their work.

"It might seem that divorce is so rooted in certain social environments, that it is no longer worthwhile to continue to combat it, by spreading a mentality, a social custom, and civil legislation in favor of indissolubility," John Paul II said.

"And yet, it is worthwhile! In fact, this good is part of the foundation of every society, as a necessary condition for the family's existence," he exclaimed.

"Therefore, its absence has devastating consequences, which spread like a plague in the social body—according to the term used by Vatican Council II to describe divorce—and have a negative influence on the new generations for whom the beauty of authentic marriage is obfuscated," the Pope stressed. The text of his address cited "Gaudium et Spes," No. 47.

"The value of indissolubility cannot be considered as the object of a simple private choice: It affects one of the pillars of the whole society," the Holy Father emphasized.

Thus, John Paul II refuted "the rather widespread idea, according to which indissoluble marriage is proper for believers, but they cannot 'impose' it on civil society as a whole."

Not only did the Bishop of Rome ask those who believe in the indissolubility of marriage to oppose juridical measures that introduce divorce, or that equate it with de facto unions ("including homosexual ones"), but he also suggested that they combine their action with "a positive attitude."

This new mentality should promote "juridical measures that tend to improve the social recognition of authentic marriage in the realm of juridical ordinances, which, unfortunately, allow divorce," John Paul II stressed. ZE02012805


Highlights Grave Responsibility of Ecclesiastical Judges


Declarations of marital nullity passed by ecclesiastical tribunals should be a "pastoral" service of the Church to the indissolubility of marriage, John Paul II says.

The Pontiff today addressed this issue when he met with judges and lawyers of the Roman Rota, the Holy See's Court of Appeals that, among other things, pronounces on sentences of marital nullity dictated by ordinary ecclesiastical tribunals.

According to the Code of Canon Law, ecclesiastical tribunals are competent to decide if a marriage is invalid, that is, that it has never existed.

These declarations must respond to specific causes, for example, that the marriage took place under duress or out of fear, by deceit, or by rejecting some of its essential elements (see Canons 1095-1107).

In that case, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (No. 1629), "the parties are free to marry, although they must fulfill the natural obligations stemming from a previous union."

Nullity has nothing to do with divorce—which is not accepted by the Catholic Church by the express teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:3-12—which implies the rupture of a valid and licit marriage.

In his traditional meeting at the beginning of the year with the judges and lawyers of the Roman Rota, the Holy Father explained that their mission is decisive, because "without the processes and sentences of the ecclesiastical tribunals, the question of the existence or nonexistence of an indissoluble marriage of faithful would only be relegated to their own consciences."

This question of conscience otherwise would be very complicated, especially if one keeps in mind "the obvious risk of subjectivism, especially when there is a profound crisis of the institution of marriage in civil society," the Pope stressed.

Therefore, "every just sentence of validity or nullity of marriage is a contribution to the culture of indissolubility both in the Church as well as in the world," the Bishop of Rome clarified.

"Not only does it give certainty to the individuals involved, but also to all marriages and families," he added.

Therefore, John Paul II warned, "an unjust declaration of nullity, opposed to the truth of the normative principles or of the facts, is particularly serious, because given its official relation with the Church, it favors the spread of attitudes in which the indissolubility is affirmed in word, but obscured in life."

Because of this, the Pontiff called for the commitment of lawyers and judges of ecclesiastical tribunals to be at the service of the indissolubility of marriage, which "does not obviously mean prejudice against the just declarations of nullity."

The Roman Rota is one of the oldest tribunals in the world, although its name, "Rota," emerged belatedly in the 14th century, in reference, perhaps, to a sort of circular table at which the judges sat.

Beginning in the 17th century, it was also involved with marital cases. And two centuries later, at the time of Gregory XVI, it finally became a court of appeals for ecclesiastical causes and those of the Papal State.

This Tribunal does not receive ordinary proceedings of declarations of nullity, which are left to diocesan marriage tribunals. ZE02012807

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