“Gentle Judge, Lord Jesus”
Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, Tuesday, 8th of September, 2015
trans. L. Yaceczko
1. The Gentle Judge, Lord Jesus, Pastor of our souls, has entrusted the power of the keys to Peter the Apostle and his Successors for the discharging the work of justice and truth in the Church; which supreme and universal power, indeed of binding and loosening on this earth, asserts, strengthens and vindicates that of the Pastors of the particular Churches, by the force of which the same have the sacred right (ius) and office before the Lord of rendering judgment for those set under them.
2. The Church, in the passing of the centuries, in matrimonial matters, having adopted more clearly the sense (conscientia) of the words of Christ, has understood and expounded more profoundly the doctrine of the indissolubility of the sacred bond of marriage (connubium), arranged for a system of nullities of matimonial consensus, and ordered a judicial process more fittingly for the matter, so that ecclesiastical discipline more and more might adhere with the truth of the faith which it professed.
3. And all these things have always been done with the highest guide being the law (lex) of the salvation of souls, since the Church, as Blessed Pope Paul VI wisely taught, is the divine counsel of the Trinity, and so all her institutions, at any rate always perfectible, ought to tend toward the transmitting of divine grace and constantly to favor the good of the faithful in Christ, as of course the essential end of the Church itself, for the duty and mission of each.
4. Taking awareness of which matters we have decreed to undertake a reformation of the processes concerning the nullity of matrimony, and toward this end we assembled a Committee of Men, outstanding in their knowledge of the law (iuris doctrina), pastoral prudence and experience in court, who, under the guidance of the Most Excellent Decan of the Roman Rota, to delineate a course for reformation, in keeping of course with the established principle of the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond. Working briskly, in a brief time the Committee of this kind has conceived an adumbration of new law for processes, which subject to weighed consideration, or with the aid of other experts, is now in the present Letter discharged.
5. Zeal therefore for the salvation of souls, which—today as yesterday—remains the supreme end of the institutions, laws (leges), law (ius), has driven the Bishop of Rome to publish the present testaments of reform to the Bishops who moreover are participants with himself in the duty to the Church, in faith and discipline for preserving unity concerning matrimony, the hinge and wellspring of the Christian family. The great number of the faithful in Christ, who, desiring to consult their conscience are often prevented by physical or moral distance from the juridical structures of the Church, strengthens our zeal for reform; charity and mercy therefore demand that the Church herself as mother place herself next to her children who feel themselves to have been separated from the flock.
6. Desires in this regard have come out also of the greater part of Our Brothers in the Episcopate, assembled in the recent extraordinary Synod, asking for quicker and more easily accessible judgments. And entirely consonant to the preceding desires, we have decided to produce in the present Letter the dispositions by which, not the nullity of matrimonies, but the speed of processes, no less than just simplicity, be favored, lest, on account of the lengthened determination of the judgment, the shadows of doubt of the faithful awaiting the declaration of their state oppress their hearts.
7. Which we have done by all means following in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, who wished the causes of nullity of matrimony to be drawn out in judicial, but not administrative, course, not on the grounds that the nature of the matter imposes this, but rather on the grounds that the demand of preserving as much as possible the truth of the sacred bond urges it: which of course the caution of the judiciary order performs.
8. Certain fundamental criteria which have governed the work of reform stand out.
I. —One executive opinion for nullity.— It has seemed best, in the first place, that the twofold agreeing decision no more be required for the nullity of matrimony, for the parties to be admitted to new canonical marriages, but that the moral certitude acquired from the first judge according to the norm of law (ius) suffice.
II. —One judge under the responsibility of a Bishop.— The appointment of a single judge, a cleric of course, in the first instance is committed to the responsibility of the Bishop who should take care that no laxity in the pastoral exercise of his judicial power be indulged.
III. —The Bishop himself the judge.— That assuredly the document in a certain matter of great weight of the Vatican Council II be at last brought to effect, it has been decreed that the Bishop himself be brought publicly forth in his Church, of which he is appointed pastor and head, to be judge among the faithful in Christ committed to his care. It is eagerly desired therefore that in large as in small dioceses the Bishop himself offer a sign of the conversion of ecclesiastical structures, nor let the judicial duty in matrimonial affairs be left delegated forward to the offices of the curia. And let this especially have force in the shorter process (processus brevior) which is established for the deciding of cases of more manifest nullity (manifestior nullitas).
IV. —Shorter process.— For indeed, with the ordinary matrimonial process rendered more expedited, a certain form of shorter process has been made—beyond the documentary kind having force according as in the presents—, to be applied in those cases in which the accused nullity of matrimony has for itself the support of peculiarly evident arguments.
Nevertheless, into how great a risk the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony may be led from the abbreviated judgment, has not escaped us; without doubt we have wished that to this end the Bishop himself be appointed judge in such a process, who is most of all, with Peter, because of his pastoral office, careful for catholic unity in faith and discipline.
V. —Appeal to the Metropolitan See.— Appeal to the Metropolitan See should be restored, since of course the office, stable through the centuries, of the head of the ecclesiastical province, stands firm as a sign of synodality in the Church.
VI. —The proper office of the Bishops’ Conferences.— Let the Conferences of Bishops, which apostolic zeal ought most of all to urge in reaching out to the dispersed faithful, be fully sensible of their office of participating in the aforesaid conversion, and keep safe and sound the law (ius) of Bishops of ordering judicial power in their particular Church.
The restoration, then, of proximity between the judge and the faithful in Christ will not find a favorable conclusion unless a spur, together with, at the same time, assitance, should come from the Conferences to the individual Bishops, for the fulfillment of the reform of the matrimonial process.
Together with the proximity of the judge let the Conferences of Bishops take care as far as possible, with the just and honest wage of the workers of the tribunal preserved (salva), that the gratuity (gratuitas) of the processes be seen to and the Church, showing herself a generous mother to the faithful, in a matter inhering so closely to the salvation of souls, manifest the free (gratuitus) love of Christ by which we have all been saved (salvi).
VII. —Appeal to the Apostolic See.— Appeal to the ordinary Tribunal of the Apostolic See, or the Roman Rota, should at all events be preserved, in observance of most ancient law (ius), so that the bond between the See of Peter and the particular Churches be confirmed, yet with a care in the discipline of the same appeal against any abuse of law, and that the salvation of souls suffer no detriment.
The proper law, moreover, of the Roman Rota, as soon as possible, will be equalled, as far as there be need, to the rules of the reformed process.
And with all the foregoing duly considered, we decree and establish that the Code of Canon Law, Book 7, Part 3, Title 1, Chapter 1 On cases for declaring the nullity of matrimony (cann. 1671–1691), hence from the 8th of the month of December 2015, entirely to be substituted with the following:
[the new versions of canons 1671–1691 follow, to the mind of the remarks in the preface]