By Vatican News staff writer
Pope Francis on Friday addressed the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the inauguration of their Judicial Year.
In his message, the Pope held up the theme of Christian matrimony, recalling his message to the Tribunal officials last year. He also highlighted that the good of the family, especially that of children, should be considered even beyond the situations of matrimonial nullity.
The Tribunal is the Church's highest court that handles appeals of marriage annulment cases. it also deals with other judicial and non-administrative cases related to Canon Law.
The family: prefigured by God
The Holy Father noted that a good part of the Tribunal's decisions in recent times have touched on lack of faith and the fundamental aspects of the conjugal union which include the birth and growth of children in addition to the union between man and woman.
He pointed out that the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota, in harmony with the Pontifical Magisterium has outlined the hierarchy of the “goods of marriage” by clarifying that the figure of the bonum familiae (the good of the family) goes beyond the grounds for nullity of marriage. He stressed that the theological figure of the family was prefigured by God.
“In fact, the Pope continued, “it is always and, in any case, the blessed fruit of the conjugal pact; it cannot be extinguished in toto with the declaration of nullity, because one cannot consider being a family as a suspended good, since it is the fruit of the divine plan, at least for the offspring generated.”
Care for children of nullified marriages
The Pope went on to draw attention to the predicament of children in marriages that have been legally declared null and void, especially when one of the parties in the marriage is not willing to accept the declaration of nullity.
Recalling his address to the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in June 2017, Pope Francis stressed that the family is the basis of society and continues to be the most appropriate structure for ensuring that people receive the integral good necessary for their permanent development.
“When we speak of the integral good of persons, it is necessary to ask ourselves how this can come about in the many situations in which children find themselves,” he insisted.
Sacramental union after nullity
Pope Francis further noted the sometimes-complicated nature of sacramental union after the declaration of nullity, noting, however, that it could be a source of peace for the spouse who requested it.
He asked: “how can one explain to children that - for example - their mother, abandoned by their father and often not willing to establish another marriage bond, receives the Sunday Eucharist with them, while their father, cohabiting or awaiting the declaration of the nullity of the marriage, cannot participate in the Eucharistic table?
He pointed out that the Church has a useful pastoral tool in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia which gives clear indications that no one, especially the children, should be left alone or treated as a means of blackmail between the parents.
The Pope informed that 19 March will be the beginning of the “Amoris Laetitia Year of the Family” and the work of the Roman Rota makes a valuable contribution to this ecclesial journey with families.
Exhortation to the Tribunal
Further addressing the Roman Rota officials, the Pope urged them not to fail to bear witness to this apostolic anxiety of the Church, considering that the integral good of persons requires that we do not remain inactive in the face of the disastrous effects that a decision on matrimonial nullity can entail.
He reminded them that the Church is a mother, and they who have an ecclesial ministry in such a vital area as judicial activity, are called to open themselves to the horizons of this difficult but not impossible pastoral work - one which involves concern for children, as the innocent victims of situations of break-ups, divorce or new civil unions.
Your Apostolic Tribunal as well as the other Tribunals of the Church, the Pope reminded them, is asked to be “more accessible and flexible, if possible, completely free.”
The Pope also pointed out the Roman Rota is charged with a pastoral sense which cannot be lacking in decisions of matrimonial nullity and conjugal union. He said that the judgments of an ecclesiastical judge “cannot disregard the memory, made up of lights and shadows, that have marked a life, not only of two spouses but also of the children” and went on to pray that the Holy Spirit may help the officials to keep in mind the “good of the children, their peace, or, on the contrary, their loss of joy in the face of separation.”
“We must not tire of devoting every attention and care to the family and to Christian marriage,” the Pope added.
Appeal for collaboration in dioceses
Pope Francis then seized the opportunity to address Bishops to be “ever more open” to the challenge connected to this issue in their jurisdictions, encouraging them to pursue an ecclesiological and pastoral path aimed at not leaving the faithful to the sole intervention of civil authorities, especially in judgments not accepted.
He further emphasized the urgency that the Bishops’ collaborators, in particular the Vicar for the Judiciary, priests and those working in the area of pastoral care for the family, strive to exercise the service of care and accompaniment of abandoned spouses and children who suffer the effects of matrimonial nullity, albeit legitimate.
Words of thanks to outgoing Dean of the Roman Rota
Before concluding his address and expressing his appreciation for the work of the Tribunal, the Pope had some special words of thanks for the Dean of the Roman Rota, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto who will soon be leaving office as he turns 80. He described Pinto as "tenacious" and committed and recalled in particular some of the obstacles and difficulties he had to face when new clauses were introduced allowing for abbreviated nullity processes. "I thank monsignor Pinto," he said, "for his courage and for having pursued his convictions until a unanimous vote was reached, giving me the possibility of signing [the reform]."