The Vatican

Justice as a disposition of the heart

Some reform measures have been adopted in the judicial sphere of Vatican City State and in relation to the penal norms contemplated in Book VI of the Code of Canon Law. The Pope recalls the merciful character of the administration of justice.

Giovanni Tridente-March 29, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes
A moment during the opening of the Vatican judicial year.

Pope Francis has established a new judicial ordinance for Vatican City State, repealing and replacing the previous law (CXIX), which dates back more than thirty years (1987), under the pontificate of St. John Paul II. It will enter into force immediately after Easter.

The legislative provision CCCLI (351) provides, in short, greater independence to the magistrates operating in the small State, ensures a clearer separation between the investigative and trial magistracy, and, in fact, simplifies the entire judicial system.

Increasing efficiency

This initiative of the pontiff was also necessary to integrate all the changes that had been adopted over the years, also during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, especially in the economic and financial areas, but also in the penal area (for example, in the field of abuse of minors by the clergy), and in the various accessions of the Vatican to international conventions. The Press Office of the Holy See has spoken, in effect, of adaptation "to the current historical and institutional context, which requires ever-increasing efficiency.".

The judicial organs, therefore, will be independent and hierarchically subject only to the Supreme Pontiff and to the law, exercising their functions with impartiality. For this reason, judges have their own judicial police (a service that continues to be carried out by the Gendarmerie Corps), and all ordinary magistrates acquire Vatican citizenship for the period in which they serve.

Pope Francis' decision also establishes that at least one of the judges of the Tribunal shall perform his duties full time and exclusively, and introduces as a requirement for the pontifical appointment of magistrates, both for the Tribunal and for the Court of Appeal and in part for the Cassation, that they be, for example, university professors - who therefore already receive a salary in another institution - in order to guarantee greater independence in the exercise of judicial functions in the service of the State.

The new law introduces specific innovations with regard to lawyers, who, in order to be registered in the Vatican registry, must obtain forensic qualification also in the State of residence, whereas previously only the civil title was sufficient, maintaining the need for knowledge of canon and Vatican law. Disciplinary sanctions are introduced against them in cases of incorrect behavior or attitudes towards any instance in the exercise of the profession.

For the first time, specific rules are indicated for the Office of the Promoter of Justice (the magistrates representing the prosecution), making a distinction between the trial and investigative magistracy, so that the latter maintains autonomy and independence in the exercise of its functions.

In addition, the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of other organs of the Holy See, as well as of the Governorate, can defend their respective administrations before judicial authorities at all levels. As a final provision, the Pope has decided that the judicial year will begin on January 1, equating it to the solar year.

Balance between old and new

Commenting on these new rules, the President of the Vatican City State Court, Giuseppe Pignatone - an Italian magistrate of renowned prestige who coordinated important investigations that led to the arrest of mafiosi, and who has always been on the front line against corruption, and whom the Pope chose for this assignment in October last year, recently retired in Italy - recalled precisely the words of the pontiff pronounced on the occasion of the last opening of the judicial year, last February.

Namely, that together with the commitment "personal, generous and responsible" of the magistrates, it is appropriate to guarantee "adequate institutions, capable of guaranteeing efficiency and timeliness"..

He then pointed out that the interpretation and application of these laws should respect "the specificity of vatican law".The first normative source and the first criterion of interpretative reference within the Church continues to be the canonical order. "This balance between the ancient and the modern constitutes the peculiarity of the current historical moment and also a further reason for the commitment of us judges."he concluded.

Virtue and mercy

The Pope's address this year to the personnel of the Vatican State Tribunal, in mid-February, had a rather spiritual character in the introductory part, through which the Holy Father presented to judges, lawyers and collaborators the example of justice proposed by Jesus in the Gospel, not as "a simple set of technically applied rules, but a disposition of the heart that guides those who have responsibilities"..

For this reason, he invited those present to a continuous personal conversion, for this is "the only justice that generates justice"The judge's judgment, however, must be accompanied by cardinal virtues such as prudence, fortitude and temperance. In addition to knowing how to distinguish the true from the false and to attribute to each his own, a good judge is one who knows how to be moderate and balanced in the evaluation of the facts, free to decide in conscience and able to resist pressures and passions.

Not to be forgotten, he said, "that in your daily commitment you are often confronted with people who hunger and thirst for justice."who suffer, "sometimes prey to existential anguish and despair."so that the right answers will be found "digging into the complexity of human affairs.", "conjugating the correctness of the laws with that something more of mercy that Jesus taught us.". Precisely because mercy thus understood is the fullness of justice.

On that occasion Pope Francis also referred to the reforms that the Holy See has carried out in the judicial sphere over the years - and which have now led to the new judicial system that we have illustrated - recalling that they are a part "integral and essential" of the ministerial activity of the Church, because they attend to the conditions of the most disadvantaged and those who have been "trampled in their human dignity and considered invisible and discarded.".

Reform of criminal regulations

A week after the inauguration of the Vatican judicial year, Pope Francis received in audience for the first time the participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, presided over by Archbishop Filippo Iannone, a Carmelite, which had been dedicated to the outline of the revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, on sanctions in the Church, begun many years ago and finally completed.

The publication of the reformed text is not expected before June. Again, it had become necessary for the criminal legislation in the Church to be "more organic and in accordance with the new situations and issues of the current socio-cultural context".The company also offers more agile tools to facilitate its application.

Pastoral imprint of justice

Here too, the Pontiff recalled that in the Church the juridical norm has a necessary but subordinate role with respect to the pre-eminence of the Word of God and the sacraments, and must always be at the service of communion. Law in the Church, in fact, has an instrumental nature. "in order to salus animarum"knowing that justice must always be affirmed and guaranteed without forgetting its pastoral nature.

In this regard, the Pope recalled, "the role of judge always has a pastoral imprint insofar as it is aimed at communion among the members of the People of God.". And the same applies to canonical penalty, which pursues "not only a function of respect for the order, but also the reparation and above all the good of the guilty party".. It has therefore "markedly medicinal character" and thus represents "a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, to rebuild justice in the community of the faithful, called to personal and common sanctification.".

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