Speeches 2005-13 530



Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Officials and Officers,

I am very pleased to welcome you this morning on the occasion of the exchange of greetings for the New Year 2012. I extend my greeting to your families and to those of your colleagues who have been unable to take part in this meeting because they are on duty in St Peter’s Square and in the neighbourhood of the Apostolic See. I address a special welcome to Dr Raffaele Aiello, the General Coordinator of the Police Inspectorate, whom I thank for his courteous words on your behalf and also on behalf of the representatives of the central and peripheral structures of the Ministry of the Interior with whom you work. I address my greeting to Prefect Salvatore Festa, and in a special way to you, Officials and Officers who offer your appreciated service “in the field”, I express my personal gratitude and that of my co-workers to all of you, for the valuable and discreet work you carry out.

The service of public security, especially in an area visited by so many tourists and pilgrims from every part of the world, is no simple task. In fact, the See of Peter constitutes the centre of Christianity and the world’s Catholics wish to come, at least once in their life, to pray at the tombs of the Apostles. This presence, both of the Holy See and of the great number of cosmopolitan people who come to visit the centre of the Catholic Church, is certainly not a problem for the City of Rome nor for Italy as a whole; on the contrary it constitutes a treasure, and is a reason to boast! My hope is that while you observe the faithful who go to St Peter’s Basilica with joy, emotion and a profound Christian soul, your faith too may become increasingly robust and that your spirit may benefit from it, helping you to face life with conduct worthy of authentic Christians and mature citizens.

Unfortunately the year that has just ended was also marked by episodes of violence and intolerance. In different parts of the world, the reprisals and attacks have often been aimed at Christians themselves, who have paid with their life for belonging to Christ and to the Church. In the Message on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, this 1 January, I wanted to stress the importance of educating young people in justice and in peace. These two terms are frequently used in our world but all too often in an equivocal manner. Justice is not simply a human convention; when in the name of a presumed justice the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions dominate, the value and dignity of the human person may be trampled upon (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 2012, n. 4).

Justice, in reality, is a virtue that directs the human will because it gives to the other what is “his” by reason of his being or his acting (cf. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 6). In the same way, peace is not merely the absence of war or solely the result of the human action to avoid it; it is first of all a gift of God that must be asked for with faith and that in Jesus Christ finds the way to achieve it. True peace, then, is a task to be undertaken daily with the contribution of compassion, solidarity, fraternity and the collaboration of each one (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 2012, n. 5). It is profoundly linked to justice — motivated by truth in charity — that men and women are able to achieve by starting from the context in which they customarily live: the family, work, friendly relations.

Dear friends, on your part, as a police force you are always authentic promoters of justice and sincere builders of peace. Let us pray the Mother of God, Queen of Peace, that she may support with her motherly intercession our resolutions and our work. Let us entrust to her the whole of the year 2012 so that it may be lived by all under the banner of reciprocal respect and the common good, hoping that no act of violence will be committed in the name of God, a supreme guarantee of justice and peace. With these sentiments, while I renew my gratitude to all of you and invoke upon each one of you and upon your work an abundance of heavenly favours, I very willingly impart a special Apostolic Blessing, that I extend with all my heart to your relatives and your loved ones. A Happy New Year to you all! Thank you. Please excuse the weakness of my voice.


Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet all of you with fraternal affection and I pray that this pilgrimage of spiritual renewal and deepened communion will confirm you in faith and commitment to your task as Pastors of the Church in the United States of America. As you know, it is my intention in the course of this year to reflect with you on some of the spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.

One of the most memorable aspects of my Pastoral Visit to the United States was the opportunity it afforded me to reflect on America’s historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the relationship between religion and culture. At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.

For her part, the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 10). To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God. When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.

In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.

In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights. As the Council noted, and I wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, respect for the just autonomy of the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 36). There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.

Dear Brother Bishops, in these brief remarks I have wished to touch upon some of the pressing issues which you face in your service to the Gospel and their significance for the evangelization of American culture. No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society. The hope which these “signs of the times” give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love. With great affection I commend all of you, and the flock entrusted to your care, to the prayers of Mary, Mother of Hope, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Dear Bishop Sippo,
Dear Bishop Häkkinen,
Distinguished friends from Finland,

It is with great joy that I welcome you, the members of the Finnish delegation, on the occasion of your annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome in order to celebrate once more today’s feast of Saint Henrik, the patron saint of Finland. In remembering our patron Saints we give thanks for the action of the Holy Spirit, informing and transforming the lives of those who have left us an outstanding example of fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel.

The annual visit of an ecumenical delegation from Finland testifies to the growth of communion among the Christian traditions represented in your country. It is my profound hope that this communion may continue to grow, bearing rich fruit among Catholics, Lutherans and all other Christians in your beloved homeland. Our deepened friendship and common witness to Jesus Christ – especially before today’s world, which so often lacks true direction and longs to hear the message of salvation – must hasten our progress towards the resolution of our remaining differences, and indeed of all matters on which Christians are divided.

In recent times, ethical questions have become one of the points of difference among Christians, especially with regard to the proper understanding of human nature and its dignity. There is a need for Christians to arrive at a profound agreement on matters of anthropology, which can then help society and politicians to make wise and just decisions regarding important questions in the area of human life, family and sexuality.

In this regard, the recent ecumenical bilateral dialogue document in the Finnish-Swedish context not only reflects a rapprochement between Catholics and Lutherans over the understanding of justification, but it urges Christians to renew their commitment to imitate Christ in life and action. We trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to make possible what may still seem beyond our reach: a widespread renewal of holiness and public practice of Christian virtue, after the example of the great witnesses who have gone before us.

In this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the second reading from today’s suggested texts recalls the patience of faithful believers like Abraham (He 6,15) who were rewarded for their faith and trust in God. The realization that God lovingly intervenes in our history teaches us not to place undue emphasis on what we can accomplish through our own efforts. Our longing for the full, visible unity of Christians requires patient and trustful waiting, not in a spirit of helplessness or passivity, but with deep trust that the unity of all Christians in one Church is truly God’s gift and not our own achievement. Such patient waiting, in prayerful hope, transforms us and prepares us for visible unity not as we plan it, but as God grants it.

It is my fervent hope that your visit to Rome will help to deepen the fraternal relations that exist between Lutherans and Catholics in Finland. Let us thank God for all that he has granted us so far and let us pray that he may fill us with the Spirit of truth to guide us towards ever greater love and unity. Upon you and all your fellow-citizens, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.


Your Eminence,
Your Excellency,
Dear Brothers,

It always gives me joy to meet the community of the Almo Collegio Capranica which has been one of the seminaries of the Diocese of Rome for more than five centuries. I greet with affection all of you and of course, in particular, His Eminence Cardinal Martino and the Rector, Mons. Ermenegildo Manicardi. And I thank His Eminence for his courteous words. On the occasion of the Feast of St Agnes, Patroness of the College, I would like to offer you a few thoughts which her status suggests.

St Agnes is one of the famous Roman maidens who demonstrated the genuine beauty of faith in Christ and of friendship with him. Her double description as Virgin and Martyr refers to the totality of the dimensions of holiness that is also required of you by your Christian faith and by the special vocation to the priesthood with which the Lord has called you to bind yourselves to him.

Martyrdom — for St Agnes — meant generously and freely accepting to spend her young life totally and without reserve to ensure that the Gospel was proclaimed as the truth and beauty that illuminate existence. In Agnes’ martyrdom, which she courageously embraced in the Stadium of Domitian, the beauty of belonging to Christ without hesitation and of entrusting ourselves to him shines out for ever.

Still today, for anyone strolling in Piazza Navona, the Saint’s statue, high up on the pediment of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, reminds us that this City of ours is also founded on friendship with Christ and on the witness to his Gospel borne by many of his sons and daughters. The generous gift of themselves to him and for the good of their brethren is a basic component of Rome’s spiritual features.

Agnes also sealed in martyrdom the other crucial element of her life, virginity for Christ and for the Church. Indeed, the conscious, free and mature choice of virginity, testifies to the wish to belong totally to Christ, and paves the way to the total gift of self in martyrdom. If martyrdom is a heroic final act, virginity is the result of a long friendship with Jesus, developed in constant listening to his word, in the dialogue of prayer, in the Eucharistic encounter.

While she was a young girl Agnes had learned that being disciples of the Lord means expressing love for him, staking one’s whole life on him. Her dual status — Virgin and Martyr — reminds us that a credible witness to faith must be a person who lives for Christ, with Christ and in Christ, transforming his or her life in accordance with the loftiest requirements of giving freely.

The priest’s formation also demands wholeness, completeness, the practice of asceticism, perseverance and heroic fidelity in all its constituent aspects; it must be based on a solid spiritual life enlivened by an intense relationship with God at a personal and community level, with special attention in liturgical celebrations and the reception of the sacraments. Priestly life calls for a growing yearning for holiness, a clear sensus Ecclesiae [sense of Church] and an openness to brotherhood without exclusion or partiality.

The priest’s journey to holiness also depends upon his decision to work out, with God’s help, his own knowledge and commitment, a true and sound personal culture which is the product of enthusiastic and constant study. Faith has a rational and intellectual dimension of its own which is essential to it. For a seminarian and for a young priest still grappling with academic studies, it is a matter of assimilating that synthesis of faith and reason which is proper to Christianity. The Word of God became flesh and the presbyter, a true priest of the Incarnate Word, must become, increasingly, a luminous and profound transparency of the eternal Word who was given to us.

Those who are also mature in their overall cultural formation can more effectively become teachers and animators of that adoration “in Spirit and truth” of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4,23).

This adoration which is formed through listening to the Word of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, is called, especially in the Liturgy, to become the “rationabile obsequium” of which the Apostle Paul speaks to us, a form of worship in which man himself, in his totality as a being endowed with reason, becomes adoration, a glorification of the living God, a worship that cannot be attained by conforming to this world, but by letting himself be transformed by Christ, renewing his way of thinking in order to discern the will of God, “what is good, acceptable and perfect (cf. Rom Rm 12,1-2).

Dear students of the Capranica College, your commitment in the journey to holiness, with a solid cultural training, corresponds with the original intention of this Institute, founded 555 years ago by Cardinal Domenico Capranica. May you always have a profound sense of the history and tradition of the Church! The fact that you are in Rome is a gift that must make you particularly sensitive to the depth of Catholic tradition. You already feel this tangibly in the history of the building that hosts you. In addition, you are living these years of formation especially close to the Successor of Peter: this enables you to perceive with special clarity the Church’s universal dimension and the desire for the Gospel to reach all peoples.

Here you have the possibility of broadening your horizons with international experiences; here, especially, you breathe catholicity. Make the most of what you are offered for the future service of the Diocese of Rome or of the Dioceses you come from! From the friendship that will arise from community life, learn to recognize the diverse situations of the nations and Churches in the world so as to form a catholic vision. Prepare yourselves to be close to every person you meet, letting no culture be a barrier to the Word of life of which you are heralds also with your own lives.

Dear friends, the Church has great expectations of young priests in the work of evangelization and of the New Evangelization. I encourage you so that in your daily labour, rooted in the beauty of the authentic Tradition and deeply united with Christ, you may be able to bring it to your communities with truth and joy.

With the intercession of the Virgin and Martyr, Agnes, and of Mary Most Holy, Star of Evangelization, may your work to enhance the fruitfulness of your ministry. I warmly impart to you and to your loved ones the Apostolic Blessing. Many thanks.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Again this year I have the joy of being able to meet and share with you this moment of sending out for the mission. I extend a special greeting to Kiko Argüello, Carmen Hernández and Fr Mario Pezzi, and an affectionate greeting to you all: priests, seminarians, families, formators and members of the Neocatechumenal Way. Your presence today is a visible testimony of your joyful commitment to live the faith in communion with the whole Church and with the Successor of Peter, and to be courageous heralds of the Gospel.

In the passage from St Matthew which we have heard, the Apostles receive a precise mandate from Jesus: “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28,19). Initially they had doubted, in their hearts there was still uncertainty, amazement at the event of the Resurrection. And it is Jesus himself, the Risen One — the Evangelist stresses — who comes close to them, makes them feel his presence, sends them out to teach all that he has communicated to them, giving them the certitude that accompanies every herald of Christ: “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28,20). They are words that resonate loudly in your heart. You have sung Resurrexit, which expresses faith in the Living One, in the One who, in a supreme act of love, triumphed over sin and death and gives to human beings, to us, the warmth of God’s love, the hope of being saved, a future of eternity.

In these decades of the Way’s life one of your firm commitments has been to proclaim the Risen Christ, to respond to his words with generosity, often giving up personal and material securities, even leaving your own countries, facing new and not always easy situations. Bringing Christ to people and bringing people to Christ: it is this that enlivens every evangelizing action. You do it in a way that helps those who have already received Baptism to rediscover the beauty of the life of faith, the joy of being Christian. “Following Christ” demands the personal adventure of the quest for him, going with him, but always also entails emerging from the closure of the self, breaking out of the individualism that all too often characterizes the society of our time, to replace selfishness with the community of the new person in Jesus Christ. And this happens in a profound personal relationship with him, in listening to his word, in taking the way he has pointed out to us, but it also happens inseparably in believing with his Church, with the saints in whom the true face of the Bride of Christ makes itself known ever anew.

It is a commitment — as we know — that is not always easy. Sometimes you are present in places where a first proclamation of the Gospel is necessary, the missio ad gentes; often, instead, in areas which although they have known Christ have grown indifferent to faith: secularism has eclipsed the sense of God there and has clouded the Christian values. Here, may your commitment and your witness be like the leaven which, with patience, respecting the times, with a sensus Ecclesiae, causes the whole mass to rise. The Church has recognized in the Way a special gift which the Holy Spirit has given to our times and the approval of the Statues and of the “Catechetical Directory” are a sign of it. I encourage you to offer your original contribution to the cause of the Gospel. Always seek in your valuable work to be in profound communion with the Apostolic See and with the Pastors of the particular Churches, in which you are inserted. The unity and harmony of the Ecclesial Body are an important witness to Christ and to his Gospel in the world in which we live.

Dear families, the Church thanks you; she needs you for the New Evangelization. The family is an important cell for the ecclesial community, where people are trained in human and Christian life. With great joy I see your sons and daughters, so many children who look to you, dear parents, to your example. About a hundred families are about to leave for 12 Missions ad gentes. I invite you not to be afraid: those who bring the Gospel are never alone. I greet with affection the priests and seminarians: love Christ and the Church, communicate the joy of having encountered him and the beauty of having given him everything. I also greet the itinerants, those in charge and all the communities of the Way. Continue to be generous with the Lord: he will not let you lack his comfort!

The Decree approving the celebrations listed in the “Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way” has just been read. They are not strictly speaking liturgical but are part of the itinerary of growth in faith. It is another factor which shows you that the Church accompanies you with attention in a patient discernment which understands your richness but also looks at the communion and harmony of the whole Corpus Ecclesiae.

This fact affords me the opportunity for a brief thought on the value of the Liturgy. The Second Vatican Council defined it as the exercise of the priestly office of Christ and the work of his body which is the Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 7). At first sight this might appear strange, because the work of Christ designates the historical redemptive actions of Christ, his Passion, death and Resurrection. In what sense, then, is the Liturgy a work of Christ? The Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus are not only historical events. They reach and penetrate history but transcend it and remain ever present in Christ’s Heart. In the Church’s liturgical action there is the active presence of the Risen Christ which makes the Paschal Mystery itself present and effective for us today, for our salvation. By this act of the gift of himself which is ever present in his Heart we are drawn and enabled to participate in this presence of the Paschal Mystery. This work of the Lord Jesus, which is the true content of the Liturgy, entering into the presence of the Paschal Mystery, is also a work of the Church which, since she is his Body, is a single subject with Christ — Christus totus caput et corpus — St Augustine says. In the celebration of the sacraments Christ immerses us in the Paschal Mystery to make us pass from death to life, from sin to new existence in Christ.

This applies very specially to the celebration of the Eucharist, which, as the culmination of Christian life, is also the hinge of its rediscovery, for which the Neocatechumenate strives. As your Statute state, “the Eucharist is essential to the Neocatechumenate, since this is a post-baptismal catechumenate lived in small communities” (art. 13 § 1). Precisely to encourage people who have drifted away from the Church or have not received an appropriate formation to draw close to the riches of sacrament life, the Neocatechumens may celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in the small community, after the first Vespers of Sunday, according to the dispositions of the diocesan bishop (cf. Statute, art. 13 § 2). However, every Eucharistic celebration is an action of the one Christ together with his one Church and is therefore essentially open to all who belong to his Church. This public character of the Blessed Eucharist is expressed in the fact that every celebration of Holy Mass is ultimately directed by the bishop as a member of the Episcopal College, responsible for a specific local Church (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium LG 26). It is the task of the celebration in the small communities — regulated by the liturgical books that must be faithfully followed, with the details approved in the Statue of the Way — to help all who follow the Neocatechumenal itinerary to perceive the grace of being inserted in the saving mystery of Christ which makes possible a Christian witness that can assume radical features. At the same time, the gradual growth in faith of the individual and of the small community should foster their insertion in the life of the large ecclesial community, whose usual place is in the liturgical celebration of the parish, in which and for which it is implemented (cf. Statute, art. 6). Nevertheless in this process it is also important not to be separate from the parish community, precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist which is the true place of the unity of all, where the Lord embraces us in the different states of our spiritual maturity and unites us in the one bread that makes us one body (cf. 1 Cor 10:16f.).

Courage! The Lord does not fail to accompany you and I too assure you of my prayers and thank you for your many signs of closeness. I ask you also to remember me in your prayers. May the Blessed Virgin Mary help you with her maternal gaze and may my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to all the members of the Way, sustain you. Many thanks!


Dear Members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota,

It is cause of joy for me to receive you today in this annual encounter, on the occasion of the inauguration of the judicial year. I extend my greetings to the College of Prelate Auditors, starting with the Dean, Bishop Stankiewicz, whom I thank for his words. Cordial greetings also to the Officials, the [Rotal] Advocates, and other collaborators, and to all those who are present. On this occasion, I renew my esteem for the delicate and precious ministry which you carry out in the Church and which requires an ever-renewed effort, account taken of the impact it has on the salus animarum of the People of God.

In the appointment of this year, I would like to begin with one of the most important ecclesial events which we will experience in a few months. I am referring to the Year of Faith, which, following in the footsteps of my Venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, I wanted to proclaim upon the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council. That great Pontiff — as I wrote in the Apostolic Letter of Indiction — established for the first time that period of reflection “fully conscious of the grave difficulties of the time, especially with regard to the profession of the True Faith and its correct interpretation”.1

Following a similar exigency, segueing to the subject matter which more directly concerns your service to the Church, today I would like to reflect upon a primary aspect of the judicial ministry, namely the interpretation of canonical law with respect to its application.2 The connection to the theme just touched upon — the right interpretation of the Faith — certainly cannot be reduced to a mere semantic assonance, considering that Canon Law grounds its foundation and its very meaning in the Truths of the Faith, and that the Lex Agendi cannot but mirror the Lex Credendi. The question of the interpretation of canonical law, moreover, constitutes a rather vast and complex subject, in front of which I will limit myself to making some observations.

All things considered, the hermeneutics of canonical laws is most closely tied to the very understanding of the law of the Church. Were one to tend to identify Canon Law with the system of the laws of the canons, the understanding of that which is juridical in the Church would essentially consist in the comprehending of that which the legal texts establish. At first glance, this approach would appear to hold Human Law entirely in value. However the impoverishment which this conception would bring about becomes manifest: with the practical oblivion of the Natural Law and of the Divine Positive Law, as well as the vital relationship of every Law with the communion and the mission of the Church, the work of the interpreter becomes deprived of vital contact with ecclesial reality.

In most recent times, some currents of thought have warned against an excessive attachment to the laws of the Church, starting with the Codes, judging them, as a case in point, to be a manifestation of Legalism. As a consequence, hermeneutical paths had been proposed which grant an approach more consonant with the theological foundations and goals, also pastoral, of the canonical norm, leading to a juridical creativity in which a singular situation would become the decisive factor to ascertain the authentic meaning of the legal precept in a concrete case. Mercy, Equity, the Oikonomia so dear to the Oriental Tradition, are some of the concepts invoked in such interpretative operations. It is immediately appropriate to note that this framework does not overcome the Positivism which it denounces, limiting itself to substituting it [Positivism] with another in which interpretive human work rises to the level of protagonist in establishing that which is juridical. It lacks the meaning of an objective law which one is to seek, because it remains at the mercy of considerations which claim to be theological or pastoral, but in the end are exposed to the risk of arbitrariness. In such a manner, legal hermeneutics becomes emptied: in the end, it does not take interest in understanding the provision of law, from the moment that it can be dynamically adapted to any whichever solution, even that which is opposed to its letter. Certainly there is in this case a reference to living phenomena, of which, however, one does not grasp the intrinsic juridical dimension.

There exists another way in which the proper understanding of canonical law opens the road to an interpretative work which inserts itself into the search for the truth about the Law and justice in the Church. As I wanted to highlight to the Federal Parliament of my Country, in the Reichstag of Berlin,3 true law is inseparable from justice. The principle is obviously valid also to the Canon Law, in the sense that it [Canon Law] cannot be shuttered within a merely human system of norms, but must be connected to a just order of the Church, in which a higher law is in effect. Seen through this lens, Human Positive Law loses the primacy which one would want to attribute to it, since law is no longer simply identified with it; in this, however, Human Law is held in value inasmuch as it is an expression of justice, above all for how much it declares as Divine Law, but also for that which it presents as a legitimate determination of Human Law.

In such a manner, a legal hermeneutics which may be authentically juridical is rendered possible, in the sense that, by placing itself in syntony with the very signification of the law, the crucial question can be posed as to what is just in each case. It would be appropriate to observe, in this respect, that in order to grasp the true meaning of the law one must always seize the very reality that is being disciplined, and that not only when the law is primarily declarative of the Divine Law, but also when it constitutively introduces human rules. These are, in fact, to be interpreted also in the light of the reality being regulated, which always contains a nucleus of the Natural Law and the Divine Positive Law, with which every norm must be in harmony in order to be rational and truly juridical.

In such realistic prospectiveness, the interpretative undertaking, at times arduous, takes on meaning and purpose. The use of the interpretive means foreseen by the Code of Canon Law in can. 17, beginning with “the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context”, is no longer a mere logical exercise. It has to do with an assignment that is vivified by an authentic contact with the comprehensive reality of the Church, which allows one to penetrate the true meaning of the letter of the law. Something then occurs, similar to what I said about the inner process of St Augustine in biblical hermeneutics: “the transcending of the letter has rendered the letter itself credible”.4 In such a manner, also in the hermeneutics of the law is it confirmed that the authentic horizon is that of the juridical truth to love, to seek out and to serve.

It follows that the interpretation of canonical law must take place within the Church. This is not a matter of mere external circumstance, subject to the environs: it is a calling to the same humus of Canon Law and the reality regulated by it. Sentire cum Ecclesia takes on meaning also within the discipline, by reason of the doctrinal foundations that are always present and operative within the legal norms of the Church. In this manner, is also applied to Canon Law that hermeneutics of renewal in continuity of which I spoke in reference to the Second Vatican Council 5, so closely bound to the current canonical legislation. Christian maturity leads one to love the law ever more and want to understand it and to apply it faithfully.

These foundational approaches are to be applied to all categories of interpretation: from scientific research on Canon Law, to the work of those who labour in the juridical sector in judicial or administrative seats, all the way to the quotidian seeking of just solutions in the lives of the faithful and of communities. A spirit of docility in welcoming laws is needed, seeking to study with honesty and dedication the juridical tradition of the Church in order to enable oneself to identify with it and also with the legal provisions enacted by Pastors, especially pontifical laws as well as the legal dispositions issued by Pastors, not to mention the Magisterium on canonical questions, which is per se binding concerning that which it teaches regarding the Law.6 Only in this manner may cases be identified in which concrete circumstances require an equitable solution in order to obtain the justice which the general human norm was not able to foresee, and may one be able to exhibit in a spirit of communion what may serve to improve the legislative system.

These reflections acquire a special relevance in the area of laws regarding the constitutive act of Matrimony and its consummation, and the reception of Holy Orders, and of those [laws] pertaining to the respective Processes. Here syntony with the true meaning of the law of the Church becomes a question of broad and profound practical impact on the lives of persons and communities, and it requires special attention. In particular, also to be applied are all juridically binding means which tend to ensure that unity in the interpretation and in the application of laws which is asked for by Justice: the Pontifical Magisterium specifically concerning this area, contained above all within the Allocutions to the Roman Rota; the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota, upon which relevance I have already had the opportunity to speak to you7; the Norms and the Declarations issued by other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Such hermeneutical unity in that which is essential does not diminish in importance in any way the functions of local tribunals, the first ones called to address complex real situations that are found in every cultural context. Each one of these, in fact, is obliged to proceed with a sense of true reverence in the presence of the truth regarding the Law, striving to practice in an exemplary manner, in the application of judicial and administrative institutes, communion in discipline, the essential aspect of the unity of the Church.

Bringing myself to the conclusion of this moment of encounter and reflection, I would like to recall the recent innovation — which Monsignor Stankiewicz referred to — by virtue of which were transferred to an Office located at this Apostolic Tribunal the competencies for procedures of dispensation from ratified and non-consummated Matrimony and cases concerning the nullity of Sacred Ordination.8 I am certain that there will be a generous response to this new ecclesial effort.

Encouraging your precious work, which requires faithful, quotidian and strong commitment, I entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Speculum Iustitiae, and willingly do I impart my Apostolic Blessing.


1 Motu Proprio Porta Fidei, 11 October 2011, 5: L’Osservatore Romano, 17-18 October 2011, p. 4.

2 Cf. can. 16, § 3 cic; can. 1498, § 3 cceo.

3 Cf. Discourse to Federal Parliament in the Federal Republic of Germany, 22 September 2011: L’Osservatore Romano, 24 September 2011, pp. 6-7.

4 Cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 38: AAS 102 (2010), p. 718, n. 38.

5 Cf. Discourse to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005: AAS 98 (2006), pp. 40-53.

6 Cf. John Paul II, Allocution to the Roman Rota, 29 January 2005, 6: AAS 97 (2005), pp. 165-166.

7 Cf. Allocution to the Roman Rota, 26 January 2008: AAS 100 (2008), pp. 84-88.

8 Cf. Motu Proprio, Querit Semper, 30 August 2011: L’Osservatore Romano, 28 September 2011, p. 7.


Dear Cardinals, Venerable Brothers and Dear Seminarians,

I am very pleased to receive you on the occasion of the centenary of the foundation of the Pontifical Seminaries of Campania, Calabria and Umbria. I greet my brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, the three rectors, together with the co-workers and teachers, and I greet you especially with affection, dear seminarians! The birth of these three regional seminaries in 1912 should be seen as part of the broader task of improving the qualifications of candidates to the priesthood that was undertaken by St Pius X, in continuity with Leo XIII.

To meet the need for a higher standard of formation, diocesan seminaries were grouped together in new regional seminaries and theological studies were streamlined. This gave rise to a tangible improvement in quality, thanks to the acquisition of a basic culture common to all and to a sufficiently long and well-structured study period. In this regard the Society of Jesus played an important role. Indeed the direction of five regional seminaries, including that in Catanzaro, was entrusted to the Jesuits from 1926 to 1941; and the one in Posillipo, since its foundation to this day. However it was not only academic formation that benefited, since the promotion of community life among young seminarians from different diocesan situations laid the foundations for considerable human enrichment. The case of the Campano Seminary in Posillipo is unique. It has been open to all the southern regions since 1935, when it was granted the faculty to award academic qualifications.

The experience of the regional seminaries is still timely and effective in the current historical and ecclesial context. Thanks to their connection with the theological faculties and institutes, they give access to higher studies, providing an appropriate training for the complex cultural and social situation in which we live. Moreover, the interdiocesan character of these seminaries is turning out to be an efficient “training ground” for communion, which is developed in the encounter of different sensibilities to be harmonized in the one service to Christ’s Church.

In this regard the regional seminaries make an effective and practical contribution to the Dioceses’ journey in communion to fostering knowledge, the capacity for cooperation and an enrichment in ecclesial experiences among the future priests, the formation staff and the Pastors of the particular Churches. The regional dimension is also an effective mediation between the line of the universal Church and the demands of the local realities that steers clear of the risk of particularism.

Your regions, dear friends, have each a rich spiritual and cultural patrimony, while they are beset by social problems. Let us think, for example, of Umbria, the homeland of St Francis and St Benedict! Imbued with spirituality, Umbria is a continuous pilgrimage destination. At the same time, this small region is suffering from the unfavourable economic situation as much as and more than others. In Campania and in Calabria, the vitality of the local Church, nourished by a religious sense that is still alive thanks to solid traditions and devotions, must be expressed in a renewed evangelization. In those lands the testimony of ecclesial communities, has to reckon with serious social and cultural emergencies, such as unemployment, especially for youth, or the phenomenon of organized crime.

Today’s cultural context demands that priests have a solid training in philosophy and theology. As I wrote in my Letter to Seminarians, at the end of the Year for Priests, “the point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, which is not a summary of a thesis, but an organism, an organic vision, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same” (cf. n. 5).

In addition, the study of theology must always be closely tied to the life of prayer. It is important that the seminarian understand properly that while he is applying himself to this subject, it is in fact a “Subject” who is calling him, the Lord, who has enabled him to hear his voice, inviting him to spend his life at the service of God and of his brethren. Thus, in today’s seminarian and tomorrow’s priest, the unity of life, as intended by the Conciliar Document Presbyterorum Ordinis (n. 14), can be visibly expressed through his pastoral charity, “the internal principle, the force which animates and guides the spiritual life of the priest inasmuch as he is configured to Christ the Head and Shepherd” (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 23).

In fact the harmonious integration between the ministry, with its multiple activities, and the priest’s spiritual life is indispensable. “It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated” (Letter to Seminarians, 18 October 2010, n. 6).

These are the reasons that impel us to pay great attention to the human dimension of the formation of candidates for the priesthood. It is indeed in our humanity that we present ourselves to God, to be authentic men of God for our brothers. Indeed, anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a “man of God”, as St Paul wrote to his pupil Timothy (1Tm 6,11).... “It follows that the most important thing in our path towards priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ” (cf. Letter to Seminarians, n. 1).

Blessed Pope John XXIII, receiving the Superiors and students of the Campano Seminary on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its foundation, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, expressed this firm conviction: “Your education strives for this, in expectation of the mission that will be entrusted to you for the glory of God and the salvation of souls: to train the mind, to sanctify the will. The world is waiting for saints; this above all. We need holy and sanctifying priests even more than cultured, eloquent and up-to-date priests”.

These words still sound timely because — throughout the Church, and in your specific regions of origin — the need for Gospel workers, credible witnesses and those who champion holiness with their own lives, is more pressing than ever. May each one of you respond to this call! I assure you of my prayer for this, while I entrust you to the motherly guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary and warmly impart to you a special Apostolic Blessing. Many thanks.
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