Vatican City, 8 November 2013 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the plenary assembly of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the dicastery of the Curia Romana which aside from exercising the function of supreme judicial authority, oversees the correct administration of justice in the Church. On this occasion, the Assembly focused on promoting an effective defence of the bond of marriage in canonical annulment.
The pontiff mentioned, first of all, that the activity of the dicastery is intended to promote the work of the ecclesiastical tribunals, called to respond adequately to the faithful “who turn to the justice of the Church, seeking a just decision”, and he described as “very favourable” the assembly's attention to the figure of the defender of the bond, “whose presence and intervention are obligatory throughout the entire process”.
In particular, he cited the instruction “Dignitas connubii” which describes the role of the defender of the bond “in cases of annulment on the grounds of mental incapacity, which in some tribunals constitutes the only permissible cause for annulment”, and “underlines the diligence with which [the defender of the bond] must appraise the questions addressed to expert witnesses, as well as the results of their reports”. Therefore, the defender of the bond must offer a careful service and “must not limit himself to a hasty reading of the acts, nor to bureaucratic or generic answers. In this delicate task, he is called upon to establish harmony between the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law and the concrete situations in the life of the Church and society”.
The complete and faithful fulfilment of the duties of the defender of the bond “does not constitute impingement upon of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical judge, who is solely competent in deciding the case. When the defender of the bond exercises his right to appeal, also to the Roman Rota, against a decision that he considers detrimental to the truth of the bond, his task does not intrude upon that of the judge. On the contrary, the judges may be assisted in their activities by the diligent work of the defender of the matrimonial bond. The Vatican Council II defined the Church as a communion. This is the context in which the services of the defender of the bond, and the esteem granted to him, should be regarded, in a respectful and attentive dialogue”.
The Holy Father mentioned that “those who work in the name of the Church are part of the Church”, and therefore “the link between the Church who evangelises and the Church who administers justice must be kept alive. Service to justice is a commitment to apostolic life: it must be exercised while remaining focused on the icon of the Good Shepherd, who tends to the lost and injured sheep”.
Pope Francis concluded by encouraging the participants in the plenary to persevere in their dedication to the “transparent and correct exercise of justice in the Church, in response to the legitimate wishes of the faithful who turn to their pastors, especially when in good faith they seek authoritative clarification of their status”.