Pope Francis Tells Vatican Judges "As stated by Saint John Paul II...in serving the cause of justice, law must always be inspired by the law-commandment of charity." FULL TEXT




Hall of Blessing
Saturday, 12 March 2022

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to meet you for the inauguration of the 93rd judicial year of the Vatican City State Court.

I greet Cardinal Mamberti, President of the Court of Cassation, and the Cardinal Judges of the same Court. I greet Archbishop Arellano Cedillo and the judges of the Court of Appeal. In particular, I thank the President of the Court, Giuseppe Pignatone, and the Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, the magistrates of their respective offices and their collaborators, for the dedication with which they engage in the delicate service of the administration of justice. I am also pleased and grateful for the presence of various representatives of the highest courts of the Italian state. I wish you all my best wishes for the judicial year that we are inaugurating today.

Your qualified and numerous presence underlines the importance we recognize on this occasion, an opportunity for encounter and dialogue between people involved in the world of institutions and in particular in justice. Indeed, in such a critical moment for humanity, in which the idea of ​​the common good - which is much more than the sum of individual goods - is put to the test, it is a heavy and responsible commitment. In fact, it concerns the fundamental values ​​for our coexistence and takes place in an area that represents a privileged terrain of convergence and collaboration between believers and non-believers.

The first reflection I wish to share arises from the synodal path we are experiencing. This process, in fact, as I recalled on a recent occasion (cf. Address for the inauguration of the judicial year of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota ), also challenges the judiciary.

Synodality implies above all walking together. In judicial matters, this means that all the participants in the trial, despite the necessary diversity of roles and interests, are called to contribute to ascertaining the truth through cross-examination, comparison of arguments and careful examination of the evidence.

This walking together therefore requires an exercise of listening, which, as we know, belongs to the very nature of a just process. In judicial activity, magistrates are required to constantly exercise honest listening to what is argued and demonstrated by the parties, without prejudice or pre-understanding towards them. With the same willingness to listen, which requires time and patience, each member of the judging panel must open himself to the reasons presented by the other members, in order to arrive at a thoughtful and shared judgment. Listen to everyone.

A serious and patient work of discernment therefore remains essential to arrive at the outcome of a just sentence and thus realize the nature and purpose of the process, which must be the implementation of justice with respect to the people involved and, at the same time, the reparation of harmony. social that looks to the future and helps to start over.

To this end, the demands of justice imply a comparative evaluation of opposing positions and interests and require reparation. Furthermore, in criminal trials, justice must always be combined with instances of mercy, which ultimately invite conversion and forgiveness. There is a complementarity between these two poles and a balance must be sought, in the awareness that, if it is true that mercy without justice leads to the dissolution of the social order, it is also true that "mercy is the fullness of justice and the most luminous of the truth of God "(Apostolic Exhortation Postsin. Amoris Laetitia , 311).

In this perspective, the use of equity, wisely defined as the justice of the single case, is precious. While the legislative precept remains valid, in the moment of application of the general law it induces to take into account the needs of the specific case, of particular situations of fact worthy of specific consideration. Recourse to equity does not constitute an exclusive prerogative of canon law, but undoubtedly finds particular recognition and appreciation in it, placing itself in close relationship with the precept of evangelical charity, the true inspiring principle of all the actions of the Church.

Canon law, as is well known, in consideration of the particular nature of the Vatican City State, is recognized in the Vatican legal system as "the first normative source and the first interpretative reference criterion" (art. 1 Law on sources N. LXXI of 1 October 2008).

It should also be remembered that in matters which the law of the Church and the other "main sources" of law do not provide (indicated in Article 1 of the Law on sources), additionally and subject to implementation by the competent Vatican authority, the laws and other normative acts issued in the Italian State, provided that they are not contrary to the precepts of proper law, nor to the general principles of canon law, as well as to the norms of the Lateran Pacts and subsequent Agreements (see art. ).

Compared to such an articulated regulatory framework, the rationale is clearof the discipline regarding the appointment of magistrates, contained in the recently amended law on the judicial system (art. 8). It establishes that the judges of the Court must be - I quote - "preferably chosen from university professors [...] and in any case from well-known jurists who have acquired proven experience in the judicial or forensic, civil, criminal or administrative fields", and "in in any case, the presence of at least one magistrate expert in canon and ecclesiastical law is ensured "(art. 8). Such a provision appropriately aims to ensure, within the judicial panel and the Office of the Promoter of Justice, the presence of skills that help to ensure the best knowledge of a peculiar and complex system of sources such as the Vatican and the possibility of authoritative decisions. and reliable.

In this perspective, the work that magistrates carry out to guarantee the exercise of justice offers a necessary and fully legitimate contribution for the solution of civil and criminal problems, additional and different from those of the jurisdiction of the Apostolic and canonical tribunals. This work is destined to increase in a period of reforms such as the one that has been underway for some time, which has also continued over the last year, with some significant innovations both in the economic and financial spheres, and in the justice sector. Reforms that intend to correspond, on the one hand, to the parameters developed by the international community in various spheres, such as the economic one, and, on the other, to the Church's own need to adapt all its structures to an increasingly evangelical style.

With regard to the first front, provisions were introduced to favor the process of containing expenditure [1] , unfortunately made even more urgent by the difficulties caused by the pandemic, and to further strengthen transparency in the management of public finances [2] , which, in a reality such as the Church must be exemplary and irreproachable, especially on the part of those who hold important roles of responsibility.

With regard to the justice sector, the aim was to respond, by means of targeted modifications and additions, to certain needs for updating the regulatory framework which required the overcoming of structures that were by now inadequate. The search for justice also calls for structural reforms that allow for its just application. Among the most relevant innovations I would like to underline, for the purposes of an ever more full and shared implementation, in particular those which, by modifying the law on the judicial system, have established that the office of the Promoter of Justice exercises its role in the three degrees of judgment [3]In this way, it was intended to respond to the priority need for equality between all members of the Church and their equal dignity and position to emerge in the current procedural system, without privileges dating back over time and no longer in keeping with the responsibilities that each belongs to in the aedificatio Ecclesiae [4] .

Further needs for updating Vatican legislation, especially in the area of ​​criminal procedure and international cooperation, will be able to find an answer in targeted reform interventions that are already being studied, in order to strengthen the tools for preventing and combating crimes and to respond to the growing demand for justice which is also registered in our State.

In this regard, it can be recalled that in the last year some complex judicial events have come to a decision, relating to crimes in the financial field or crimes against good morals, which have brought to light both criminal behavior punctually sanctioned, both inappropriate and they requested the intervention of the competent ecclesiastical authority.

The development of the procedural dynamics must make it possible to re-establish the broken order and pursue the path of justice, a path that leads to an ever fuller and more effective fraternity, in which all are protected, especially the weakest and most fragile. Indeed, law and judgment must always be at the service of truth and justice, as well as of the evangelical virtue of charity. As stated by Saint John Paul II in the speech for the official presentation of the new Code of Canon Law, in serving the cause of justice, law must always be inspired by the law-commandment of charity.

In this perspective, which excludes any self-referential vision of the law, the justice proposed by Jesus Christ is not so much a set of rules to be applied with technical expertise, but rather a disposition of life that guides those who have responsibility and that requires above all a commitment to personal conversion. He asks for a disposition of the heart to implore and nourish in prayer and thanks to which we can fulfill our duties by combining the correctness of the laws with mercy, which is not the suspension of justice, but its fulfillment ( cf.Rom 13: 8-10) .

Dear friends, I hope that you will always keep this awareness in the exercise of your important responsibilities in the service of justice. With deep gratitude for your generous commitment, I bless you and assure you of my prayers. And you too, please, don't forget to pray for me. Thank you!


[1] Cf. Ap. Lett. in the form of a “Motu Proprio” regarding the containment of expenditure for the staff of the Holy See, the Governorate of the Vatican City State and other related Bodies (23 March 2021).

[2] Cf. Ap. in the form of a “Motu Proprio” containing provisions on transparency in the management of public finance (April 26, 2021).

[3] Cf. Ap. in the form of a “Motu Proprio” Amendments regarding the jurisdiction of the judicial bodies of the Vatican City State (30 April 2021), art. 3.

[4] See Inauguration speech of the judicial year of the SCV Tribunal , March 27, 2021.