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Pope Francis urges Roman Rota to work with ‘synodal spirit’

Pope Francis addresses members of the Roman Rota in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Jan. 27, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2022 / 07:25 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday urged members of the Catholic Church’s highest court handling appeals of marriage annulment cases to work with a “synodal spirit.”

In his annual speech to the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota on Jan. 27, the pope recalled that the worldwide Church is engaged in a two-year consultation process ahead of the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

“The synodal path we are currently following also challenges our meeting, because it also involves the judicial sphere and your mission at the service of families, especially those who are wounded and in need of the balm of mercy,” he said in his address in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

The Roman Rota is one of the three courts of the Holy See, along with the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Apostolic Signatura. Among the Rota’s primary responsibilities is considering appeals in marriage nullity cases.

A declaration of nullity — often referred to as an “annulment” — is a ruling by a tribunal that a marriage did not meet the conditions required to make it valid according to Church law.

Thursday’s meeting, which marked the start of the Rota’s new judicial year, began with an address to the pope by Msgr. Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, the Spanish dean of the Roman Rota.

In his speech, the pope referred to the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, which marks the fifth anniversary of the publication of Amoris laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on love in the family. The celebration will end on June 26, with the 10th edition of the World Meeting of Families in Rome.

He said: “In this year dedicated to the family as an expression of the joy of love, we have the opportunity today to reflect on synodality in matrimonial nullity proceedings.”

“Although synodal work is not strictly procedural in nature, it should be placed in dialogue with judicial activity, in order to encourage a more general rethinking of the importance of the experience of the canonical process for the lives of the faithful who have experienced a marriage breakdown and, at the same time, for the harmony of relationships within the ecclesial community.”

“Let us then ask ourselves in what sense the administration of justice needs a synodal spirit.”

The pope said in matrimonial cases it was vital that all parties set aside subjective interests and focus on the same goal: “that of shining the light on the truth about a concrete union between a man and a woman, arriving at the conclusion as to whether or not there is a true marriage between them.”

He said that from the earliest stages of a case, couples should be invited to seek “forgiveness and reconciliation” and not to see a declaration of nullity as “the only objective” or something that is “a right regardless of the facts.”

He underlined that “any voluntary alteration or manipulation of the facts, aimed at obtaining a pragmatically desired result, is not admissible.”

Pope Francis illustrated his point by describing a case that a bishop recently presented to him concerning a disciplinary problem with a priest.

The judge of the national Church court told the bishop that he was prepared to give whatever verdict was desired. “If you tell me to condemn him, I will condemn him; if you tell me to acquit him, I will acquit him,” he said, according to the pope.

“This can happen. It can come to this if there is no unity in the trials even with conflicting sentences,” the pope reflected. “Go together, because the good of the Church, the good of the people, is at stake. It is not a negotiation that takes place.”

In his address, Pope Francis alluded to his 2015 document Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, which made changes to canon law intended to streamline the process by which Church tribunals assess requests for declarations of nullity.

The text said that in each diocese, “the judge in first instance for cases of nullity or marriage for which the law does not expressly make an exception is the diocesan bishop.”

The pope reiterated on Thursday that “the original judge is the bishop.”

He said: “The dean greeted me saying: ‘the pope, universal judge of all…’ But this is because I am bishop of Rome and Rome presides over everything, not because I have another title. Thanks to this.”

“If the pope has this power it is because he is the bishop of the diocese of which the Lord wanted the bishop to be the pope. The real and first [judge] is the bishop, not the judicial vicar, the bishop.”

Returning to the theme of synodality, the pope urged judges to develop their listening skills.

“As in other areas of pastoral care, in judicial activity too, we need to foster a culture of listening, a prerequisite for a culture of encounter,” he said.

“This is why standard answers to the concrete problems of individual persons are harmful.”

He also reminded judges to be open to their colleagues when considering cases as part of a panel.

“In this sense, in your action as ministers of the tribunal, the pastoral heart, the spirit of charity and understanding towards people who suffer from the failure of their married life, must never be lacking,” he said.

“To acquire such a style it is necessary to avoid the cul-de-sac of juridicism — which is a kind of legal Pelagianism; it is not Catholic, juridicism is not Catholic — that is, of a self-referential vision of the law.”

“Law and judgment are always at the service of truth, justice, and the evangelical virtue of charity.”

He said that another important aspect of “the synodality of processes” was discernment.

“It is a matter of discernment based on walking together and listening, and which allows us to read the concrete situation of marriage in the light of the Word of God and the Magisterium of the Church,” he said.

The pope concluded by encouraging members of the Rota in their work and reminding them of the importance of prayer.

He said: “May prayer always accompany you. ‘I’m busy, I have to do many things…’ The first thing you need to do is pray. Pray for the Lord to be close to you. And also to know the heart of the Lord: we know it in prayer. And the judges pray, and must pray, twice or three times as much. Please don’t forget to pray for me too, of course.”

‘There was no real interest in their suffering’: Cardinal Marx apologizes to victims after Munich abuse report

Cardinal Reinhard Marx speaks at a press conference in Munich, Germany, Jan. 27, 2022. / Screenshot from

Munich, Germany, Jan 27, 2022 / 04:09 am (CNA).

Cardinal Reinhard Marx offered a personal apology to abuse survivors on Thursday, in the wake of a report criticizing the handling of cases in his archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

Speaking at a live-streamed press conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Jan. 27, the 68-year-old cardinal said that the treatment of victims was “inexcusable,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“I am attributed responsibility in this report and I am prepared to take responsibility. Last year I wrote to Pope Francis, and I have also stated elsewhere before, that for me the greatest guilt is to have overlooked those affected. That is inexcusable,” he said.

“There was no real interest in their fate, in their suffering. In my opinion, this is also due to systemic reasons, and at the same time I bear moral responsibility for this as acting archbishop.”

He went on: “Therefore, first of all, I apologize once again personally and also on behalf of the archdiocese to you as those affected for what you have suffered in the sphere of the Church.”

“I also apologize to the faithful in this archdiocese who doubt the Church, who can no longer trust those responsible and whose faith has been damaged.”

The more than 1,000-page report, issued on Jan. 20, accused Marx, one of Germany’s most influential churchmen, of mishandling two abuse cases.

Marx is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until 2020, he served as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference.

Marx wrote to Pope Francis in May 2021, offering to resign amid the fallout from the clerical abuse crisis in Germany. The pope declined his resignation in June of that year.

The cardinal told reporters that he intended to remain in office for now, but did not rule out seeking to resign for a second time.

“For me personally, I say once again clearly: As archbishop, I bear responsibility for the actions of the archdiocese according to my moral conviction and in my understanding of my office. I do not cling to my office,” he commented.

“The offer of resignation last year was meant very seriously. Pope Francis decided otherwise and asked me to continue my ministry responsibly. I am ready to continue my ministry if it is helpful for the further steps that need to be taken for a more reliable reappraisal, an even stronger attention to those affected and for a reform of the Church.”

“If I get the impression that I am more of an obstacle than a help, I will seek dialogue with the relevant advisory bodies and allow myself to be critically questioned. In a synodal church, I will no longer make this decision on my own.”

Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, the law firm that produced the study, presented the report’s conclusions at a press conference in Munich.

Marx was not present at the event and Marion Westpfahl, a founding partner of the firm, lamented the cardinal’s absence as she presented the report.

In a brief statement hours after the report’s publication, Marx said that he was “shocked and ashamed” at its findings.

The authors of the “Report on the Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults by Clerics, as well as [other] Employees, in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 to 2019” also accused Pope emeritus Benedict XVI of mishandling four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

The 94-year-old retired pope, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.

Addressing the report’s criticisms of his own actions, Marx said he felt it was inappropriate to offer defensive arguments, but promised to examine the cases carefully with experts.

“Not to defend myself,” he said, “but to learn from them and to implement changes. I also see administrative and communicative failures here. But in one case I blame myself for not really actively approaching those affected.”

In April 2021, Marx asked German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.

He had been scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin.

Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007, said that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the affected persons’ advisory board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged the president to withhold the honor, citing Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.

The official web portal of the Catholic Church in Germany reported in June 2021 that Marx’s actions in Trier would be “comprehensively investigated” by an independent commission on behalf of the diocese that has been led by Bishop Stephan Ackermann since 2009.

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Marx highlighted the German Church’s “Synodal Way,” a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss power, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the Church.

He said that “it is now important to push ahead with the reform steps as discussed in the Synodal Way and as they will also be put on the agenda in the synodal process in the worldwide Church. I want to remain committed to this. For without a truly profound renewal, reappraisal will ultimately not succeed.”

Report: Pope Francis plans 2-day visit to Malta in April

Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 26, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Valletta, Malta, Jan 27, 2022 / 02:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis intends to make a two-day visit to Malta in April, according to a local newspaper.

The Times of Malta reported on Jan. 25 that the Vatican had informed the government and Church leaders that the pope would visit the country on April 2-3.

The Vatican has not confirmed the report.

The pope initially planned to visit the archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2020, the Solemnity of Pentecost. But the Vatican announced in March 2020 that the trip had been “postponed until further notice.”

The Times of Malta said that Malta’s President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela had accepted the dates of the April visit.

Malta, located south of the Italian island of Sicily, is named in the Acts of the Apostles as the site where St. Paul was shipwrecked on route to Rome in 60 A.D.

In a pastoral letter anticipating the pope’s scheduled 2020 visit, Malta’s bishops said that the theme of the trip would be “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2).

They said that the pope would meet with the people of the island of Malta and residents of Gozo, the second-largest island in the archipelago, as well as migrants.

“In his short but meaningful visit to Malta, Pope Francis will celebrate and pray with the Maltese and Gozitan people,” the bishops wrote.

“He will show us how, purified by the Spirit of God who cleanses us from our sins, we can live in true reconciliation together and treat each other with dignity and ‘unusual kindness.’”

An overwhelming majority of Malta’s roughly half a million population are baptized Catholics. Catholicism is the state religion under the Constitution of Malta.

The country’s leading Catholic figure is Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the archbishop of Malta since 2015 and the adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2018.

John Paul II became the first pope to visit Malta in 1990. He visited again in 2001.

The most recent papal visit, by Benedict XVI, took place on April 17-18, 2010.

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