Pope Francis opens Italian Bishops' Assembly "...based on the unconditional love witnessed by Jesus on the cross..." Full Text + Video



Synod Hall
Monday, May 20, 2019

Dear brothers,

I thank you for this meeting that I would like to have a moment of help for the pastoral discernment on the life and mission of the Italian church. I also thank you for the effort you offer every day in carrying out the mission that the Lord has entrusted to you and in serving the people of God with and according to the heart of the Good Shepherd.

Today I would like to talk to you again about some of the issues that we discussed in our previous meetings in order to deepen them and integrate them with new questions to see together where we stand. I will give you the word later to address to me the questions, the perplexities and the inspirations the criticisms, all that you carry in the heart. There are three points I would like to talk about.

1 - Synodality and collegiality

On the occasion of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, held on 17 October 2015, I wanted to clarify that "the path of synodality is the path that God expects from the Church of the third millennium [...] is a constitutive dimension of Church ", so that" what the Lord asks us, in a certain sense, is already all contained in the word synod ". [1]

Also the new document of the International Theological Commission, on the synodality in the life and mission of the Church, during the Plenary Session of 2017, states that «synodality, in the ecclesiological context, indicates the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church People of God which concretely manifests and realizes its being communion in walking together, in gathering in assembly and actively participating in all its members in its evangelizing mission ". And it continues as follows: "While the concept of synodality recalls the involvement and participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the Church, the concept of collegiality specifies the theological meaning and the form of exercise of the ministry of Bishops at the service of the Particular Church entrusted to the pastoral care of each one and in the communion between the particular Churches within the one and universal Church of Christ, through the hierarchical communion of the Episcopal College with the Bishop of Rome. Collegiality, therefore, is the specific form in which the ecclesial synodality is manifested and realized through the ministry of the Bishops on the level of communion between the particular Churches in a region and on the level of communion between all the Churches in the universal Church. Every authentic manifestation of synodality requires by its very nature the exercise of the collegial ministry of the Bishops ". [2]

I therefore welcome the fact that this assembly wanted to study this topic in more depth, which actually describes the medical record of the state of health of the Italian Church and of your pastoral and ecclesiastical work.

It could be helpful to address in this context of any lack of collegiality and participation in the conduct of the CEI Conference both in determining pastoral plans and in economic-financial planning commitments.

On synodality, even in the context of a probable Synod for the Italian Church - I have heard a "noise" lately about this, it has arrived as far as Santa Marta! -, there are two directions: synodality from the bottom up, that is the need to take care of the existence and good functioning of the Diocese: the councils, the parishes, the involvement of the laity ... (see CIC 469-494) - start from the dioceses: you cannot make a great synod without going to the base. This is the movement from the bottom up - and the evaluation of the role of the laity; and then the synodality from the top down, in accordance with the speech I made to the Italian Church in the V National Convention in Florence, 10 November 2015, which still remains in force and must accompany us on this journey. If someone thinks of making a synod on the Italian Church, we must start from the bottom up, and from the top down with the Florence document. And this will take, but you will walk on the safe side, not on ideas.

2 - Reform of marriage proceedings

As you well know, with the two Motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus, published in 2015, the matrimonial processes were reorganized and established, establishing three types of process: ordinary, brief and documentary.

The need to streamline procedures has led to simplifying the ordinary process, with the abolition of the mandatory double compliant decision. From now on, if there is no appeal on time, the first sentence declaring the nullity of the marriage becomes enforceable. Then there is the other type of process: the short-term one. "This form of process is to be applied in cases where the accused nullity of the marriage is supported by the joint request of the spouses, obvious arguments, since the evidence of nullity of marriage is a quick demonstration. With the request made to the Bishop, and the trial prepared by the judicial Vicar or by an instructor, the final decision, of declaration of nullity or referral of the case to the ordinary process, belongs to the Bishop himself, who - by virtue of his pastoral office - is with Peter the greatest guarantor of Catholic unity in faith and discipline. Both the ordinary process and the short-term one are processes of a purely judicial nature, which means that the nullity of the marriage can be pronounced only if the judge achieves moral certainty on the basis of the documents and evidence gathered ". [3]

Thus, the short-term process introduced a new typology, namely the possibility of addressing the Bishop, as head of the Diocese, asking him to express himself personally on some cases, in the most obvious cases of nullity. And this because the pastoral dimension of the Bishop includes and also demands his personal function as judge. This not only manifests the proximity of the diocesan pastor to his faithful, but also the presence of the Bishop as a sign of Christ the sacrament of salvation. For this reason the Bishop and the Metropolitan, with an administrative act, must proceed to the erection of the diocesan tribunal, if it has not yet been constituted, and in the case of difficulties, they can also access a diocesan or interdiocesan adjoining tribunal. This is important.

This procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuitousness. Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, is celebrated in the diocesan Church, without delay and without unnecessary prolongation. The term gratuity refers to the evangelical mandate according to which gratuitously one is received and gratuitously must be given (cf. Mt 10: 8), for which it requires that the ecclesiastical pronouncement of nullity does not amount to a high cost that poor people are unable to sustain . This is very important.

I am well aware that you, in the 71th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and through various communications, [4] have provided an update on the reform of the administrative regime of ecclesiastical courts in matrimonial matters. However, I regret to see that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in the great part of the Italian Dioceses.
I reiterate clearly that the Rescript I gave, in December 2015, abolished the Motu Proprio of Pius XI Qua cura (1938), which established the Regional Ecclesiastical Tribunals in Italy and, therefore, I sincerely hope that the application of the two aforementioned Motu You find your full and immediate implementation in all the Dioceses where you have not yet done so.

In this regard, dear confreres, we must never forget that the reforming thrust of the canonical marriage process, characterized - as I have already said above - by the proximity, speed and gratuitousness of procedures, is aimed at showing that the Church is mother and cares for good of one's children, which in this case are those marked by the wound of a broken love; and therefore all the operators of the Court, each for its part and its competence, must act in order for this to be realized, and consequently not to place anything else that can prevent or slow down the application of the reform, of any nature or interest. be.

The success of the reform necessarily passes through a conversion of structures and people; and therefore we do not allow the economic interests of some lawyers or the fear of losing the power of some Judicial Vicars to hold back or delay the reform.

3 - The relationship between priests and bishops

The relationship between us Bishops and our priests is, unquestionably, one of the most vital issues in the life of the Church, it is the backbone on which the diocesan community is based. I quote the wise words of His Eminence Cardinal Bassetti when he wrote: "If this relationship were to break the whole body would be weakened. And the same message would end up fading ". [5]

The Bishop is the pastor, the sign of unity for the entire diocesan Church, the father and the guide for his priests and for the whole community of believers; he has the imperative task of caring primarily and carefully for his relationship with his priests. Unfortunately, some Bishops are struggling to establish acceptable relationships with their priests, thus risking to ruin their mission and even weaken the mission of the Church itself.

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that presbyters constitute a single presbytery with their bishop, although destined for different offices (see Const. Lumen Gentium, 28). This means that there is no Bishop without his presbytery and, in turn, there is no presbytery without a healthy relationship cum episcopo. Even the conciliar decree Christus Dominus states: "All priests, both diocesan and religious, in union with the Bishop participate in the one priesthood of Christ and therefore are constituted providential cooperators of the episcopal order. [...] Therefore they constitute one presbytery and one family, of which the Bishop is the father "(n. 28).
The solid relationship between the Bishop and his priests is based on the unconditional love witnessed by Jesus on the cross, which represents the only true rule of behavior for bishops and priests. In reality, priests are our closest collaborators and brothers. I'm the next neighbor! It is also based on mutual respect which manifests fidelity to Christ, love for the Church, adherence to the Good News. Hierarchical communion, in truth, collapses when it is infected by any form of personal power or self-gratification; but, on the contrary, it is strengthened and grows when it is embraced by the spirit of total abandonment and service to the people of God.

We Bishops have a duty of presence and closeness to the Christian people, but in particular to our priests, without discrimination and without preferences. A true pastor lives in the midst of his flock and his presbyters, and knows how to listen and welcome everyone without prejudice.

We must not fall into the temptation to approach only the sympathetic priests or flatterers and to avoid those who, according to the bishop, are unpopular and outspoken; to hand over all responsibilities to available priests or "climbers" and to discourage introverted or mild or timid priests, or problematic priests. Being the father of all his priests; take an interest in and look for everyone; visit all; always know how to find time to listen whenever someone asks or needs it; to make everyone feel valued and encouraged by his Bishop. To be practical: if the bishop receives the call of a priest, answer within the day, at most the next day, so that priest will know that he has a father.

Dear confreres, our priests continually feel under mediatic attack and often ridiculed or condemned because of some mistakes or crimes of some of their colleagues, and they need to find in their Bishop the figure of the elder brother and the father who encourages them in difficult times; it stimulates them to spiritual and human growth; it encourages them in times of failure; corrects them with love when they make mistakes; it comforts them when they feel alone; he raises them when they fall. This requires, first of all, closeness to our priests, who need to find the Bishop's door and his heart always open. Requires to be Bishop-father, Bishop-brother!

Dear brothers, I wanted to share with you these three topics as points for reflection. Now I leave the word to you and I thank you in advance for your sincerity and frankness. And thank you very much!

[1] AAS 107 (2015), 1139.
[4] https://giuridico.chiesacattolica.it/il-motu-proprio-mitis-iudex-dominus-iesus-e-la-riforma-dei-processi-matrimoniali-2/
[5] “Il rapporto tra il vescovo e i suoi preti per servire il popolo di Dio”: L’Osservatore Romano, 7 marzo 2015.