The Splendor in Justice & Law

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Address to the Roman Rota on 28 January 1994

1. I am very grateful to your excellency, the dean, for the noble sentiments expressed in the name of all present. Together with you I cordially greet the college of prelate auditors, the officials and all who work in the tribunal of the Roman Rota, as well as those who make up the Studium Rotale and the rotal advocates. To all, my fervent best wishes in the Lord!

To you personally, monsignor, I would like to extend my wish for calm and productive work. You have recently received the honor and burden of directing the tribunal, succeeding Archbishop Ernesto Fiore, whom I recall with affection. May Our Lady of Good Counsel, the seat of wisdom, assist you each day in carrying out your important ecclesial service.

2. I listened with intense interest to your profound reflections on the human and Gospel roots that sustain the tribunal's activity and support its commitment to serving justice. Various themes merit further consideration and development. However, the specific reference you made to the recent encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" persuades me this morning to discuss with you the intriguing relationship between the splendor of truth and that of justice. As a participation in truth, justice too has its own splendor that can evoke a free response in the subject, one not merely external but arising from the depths of conscience.

In an address to the Rota, my great predecessor Pius XII already had authoritatively warned: "The world needs truth that is justice, that justice which is truth" (AAS 34, 1942: 342). God's justice and God's law are the reflection of the divine life. However, human justice must also strive to reflect truth and to share in its splendor. "Quandoque iustitia veritas vocatur," St. Thomas recalls (Sum. Theol. II-II, q. 58, a. 4, ad 1), seeing the reason for this in the requirement that justice be practiced in accordance with right reason, that is, in accordance with truth. Hence it is legitimate to speak of the "splendor iustitia" and of the "splendor legis" as well: Indeed, the task of every legal system is to serve the truth, "the only solid foundation which can support personal, marital and social life" (address to the Rota, AAS 32, 1990: 875). It is only right, then, that human laws should aspire to reflect in themselves the splendor of truth. Obviously, the same can be said of their concrete application, which is also entrusted to human agents.

Love for the truth must be expressed in love for justice and in the resulting commitment to establishing the truth in relations within human society; nor can subjects be lacking in love for the law and the judicial system, which represent the human attempt to provide concrete norms for resolving practical cases.

3. For this reason it is necessary for everyone in the church who administers justice to reach the point of perceiving its beauty through regular conversation with God in prayer. This will enable them, among other things, to appreciate the wealth of truth in the new Code of Canon Law, recognizing its source of inspiration in the Second Vatican Council, whose directives have the sole aim of fostering the vital communion of every believer with Christ and with his brothers and sisters.

Ecclesiastical law is concerned with protecting the rights of each person in the framework of the duty of all toward the common good. In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes: "Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of every person and to establish in human relations the harmony that promotes equity toward individuals and the common good" (No. 1807)

When pastors and the ministers of justice encourage the faithful not only to exercise their ecclesial rights but also to be aware of their own duties in order to fulfill them faithfully, we wish precisely to urge them to have a direct, personal experience of the "splendor legis." In fact, the believer who "recognizes, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of a deep ecclesiological conversion ... will transform the assertion and exercise of his rights into assuming the duties of unity and solidarity for implementing the superior values of the common good" (address to the Rota, AAS 71, 1979: 425f).

On the other hand, exploiting justice to serve personal interests or pastoral forms that, however sincere, are not based on truth, will result in creating social and ecclesial situations of distrust and suspicion, in which the faithful will be tempted to see merely a contest of competing interests and not a common effort to live in accordance with justice and right.

4. The ecclesiastical judge's entire activity, as my venerable predecessor John XXIII stated, consists in exercising the "ministerium veritatis" (address to the Rota, AAS 53, 1961: 819). From this perspective it is easy to understand how the judge must call upon the "lumen Dei" in order to discern the truth in each individual case. In turn, however, the parties concerned should not fail to seek in prayer a basic willingness to accept the final decision, though after having exhausted all legitimate means of challenging what in conscience they believe does not correspond to the truth or justice of the case.

If those who administer the law strive to maintain an attitude of complete openness to the demands of truth, with rigorous respect for procedural norms, the faithful will remain convinced that ecclesial society is living under the governance of law; that ecclesial rights are protected by the law; that in the final analysis the law is an opportunity to respond lovingly to God's will.

5. Truth, however, is not always easy: Its affirmation is sometimes quite demanding. Nevertheless, it must always be respected in human communication and human relations. The same applies for justice and the law: They do not always appear easy either. The legislator—universal or local—does not have an easy task. Since law must look to the common good—"omnis lex ad bonum commune ordinatur" (Sum. Theol. I-II, q. 90, a. 2)—it is quite understandable for the legislator to ask even heavy sacrifices of individuals, if necessary. The latter, for their part, will respond with the free, generous consent of those who are able to acknowledge the rights of others in addition to their own. A strong response will follow, one sustained by a spirit of sincere openness to the demands of the common good, with awareness of the consequent advantages, in the end, for the individual himself.

You are well aware of the temptation to lighten the heavy demands of observing the law in the name of a mistaken idea of compassion and mercy. In this regard, it must be firmly said that if it is a question of a transgression that concerns the individual alone, one need only refer to the injunction: "Go, and do not sin again" (Jn. 8:11). But if the rights of others are at stake, mercy cannot be shown or received without addressing the obligations that correspond to these rights.

One is also duty-bound to be on guard against the temptation to exploit the procedural proofs and norms in order to achieve a "practical" goal, which is perhaps considered "pastoral," but is to the detriment of truth and justice. In an address given to you several years ago, I referred to a "distortion" in the conception of the pastoral nature of church law: It "lies in attributing pastoral importance and intent only to those aspects of moderation and humaneness in the law that can be immediately linked with "aequitas canonica:" that is, holding that only the exceptions to the law, the potential non-recourse to canonical sanctions and proceedings, and the streamlining of judicial formalities have any real pastoral relevance." However, I warned that in this way one easily forgets that "justice and law in the strict sense—and consequently general norms, proceedings, sanctions and other typical juridical expressions, should they become necessary—are required in the church for the good of souls and are thus intrinsically pastoral" (address to the Rota, AAS 82, 1990: 873).

It is indeed true that resolving practical cases is not always easy. But love or mercy—as I mentioned on the same occasion—"cannot prescind from the demands of truth. A valid marriage, even one marked by serious difficulties, could not be considered invalid without doing violence to the truth and undermining thereby the only solid foundation which can support personal, marital and social life" (ibid., p. 875). These are the principles I feel obliged to emphasize with particular firmness during the Year of the Family, as we see ever more clearly the dangers to which a mistaken "understanding" exposes the institution of the family.

6. A correct attitude toward the law also takes into account its function as a tool that serves the good functioning of human society and the affirmation of communio in ecclesial society.

In order to foster authentic communio, as the Second Vatican Council describes it, it is absolutely necessary to encourage a correct sense of justice and of its reasonable demands.

Precisely for this reason, the legislator and those who administer the law will be concerned, respectively, to create and apply norms based on the truth of what is right and necessary in social and personal relations. Legitimate authority, then, must be involved in and promote the proper formation of personal conscience (Veritatis Splendor, 75), because, if well formed, conscience naturally assents to truth and perceives within itself a principle of obedience compelling it to conform to what the law commands (cf. ibid., 60; Dominum et Vivificantem, 43).

7. In this way, both in the individual and in the social and specifically ecclesial realms, truth and justice will be able to show forth their splendor: All humanity needs this today more than ever in order to find the right path and its final destination in God.

How important, therefore, is your work, distinguished prelate auditors and dear staff of the Roman Rota. I trust that these considerations will inspire and support you in performing your work, for which I express my cordial wishes and the assurance of a special remembrance in my prayer.

To confirm these sentiments, I am pleased to give you my blessing, which I extend to everyone in the church concerned with the sensitive task of administering justice.

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