By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis on Friday received members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, who are meeting for their plenary session.
In his address, the Holy Father noted that the Council assists the Pope in his legislative function, helps interpret canon law, aids other dicasteries in matters of canon law, and supervises the legitimacy of the normative texts enacted by legislators to the Church.
The true meaning of law in the Church
Additionally, he said, the Council offers its help to Bishops and Episcopal Conferences “for the correct interpretation and application of the law; and more generally, in spreading knowledge of and attention to [the law]”. Pope Francis said, “It is necessary to re-aquire and deepen the true meaning of law in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, where the Word of God and the Sacraments are pre-eminent, while the juridical norm has a necessary but subordinate role in the service of communion”. He emphasized the importance of helping people understand “the pastoral nature of canon law, its instrumentality with regard to the salus animarum [the salvation of souls], and its necessity in obedience to the virtue of justice”.
The pastoral nature of canon law
He also highlighted the pastoral nature of canon law, which is not “hindrance” to pastoral effectiveness, “but rather a guarantee of the search for solutions that are not arbitrary, but truly just, and therefore, truly pastoral”. Quoting Benedict XVI, he said “a society without law would be a society deprived of rights”, and added that today, “in this area of ‘world war fought piecemeal’, we see, as always, there is the lack of law… Dictatorships are born and grow without law. In the Church this cannot happen”.
Communion among the People of God
With regard to the Church’s penal law — which is being studied by the Council in their plenary session — Pope Francis said that Bishops must be aware that in their particular Churches, they have the role of “judge” among the faithful entrusted to them. He explained that Bishops must remember that as judges, their work must be directed “to communion among the People of God”; and so, the imposition of penalties must be a last resort, “the extreme remedy to be used” when all other means of achieving compliance “have proved ineffective”.
Canonical penalties always medicinal
Pope Francis said that unlike civil law, the Church’s law always has a “pastoral significance”, not only for the ecclesial community, but also for “the good of the guilty persons” themselves. “The aim of the recovery of the individual emphasizes that canonical punishment is not merely a coercive instrument, but has a distinctly medicinal character”, he said. “Ultimately, it represents a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, for rebuilding justice in the community of the faithful, called to personal and common sanctification”.
The Holy Father concluded his address with a word of encouragement for the members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, saying the work they have been pursuing is moving in the right direction. “I urge you to continue with tenacity in this task”, he said, before blessing them and their work.