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Church tribunals must 'think with the Church,' Pope says

January 23, 2012

The proper application of canon law entails “a search for the truth about law and justice in the Church,” said Pope Benedict XVI on January 21, as he spoke with officials of the Roman Rota as the tribunal opened its judicial year.

The Pope noted that canon law can be applied legalistically, looking only at the letter of the law; or it can be applied pastorally, looking at individual cases without reference to the canons. Neither way is proper, he said.

Instead, the Pope said, ecclesiastical tribunals should ask “what is just in each particular case,” applying canon laws and precedents—as well as natural law and pastoral wisdom--to individual situations. Citing the principle sentire cum Ecclesia, the Pope encouraged the canonists to judge cases with the mind of the Church.

The doctrinal truths on which Church laws are based do not change, the Pope reminded the officials of the Roman Rota. “Thus the hermeneutic of renewal in continuity, about which I have spoken with reference to Vatican Council II (which is so closely associated with current canonical legislation), must also be applied to canon law.”


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