Pope Outlines Right Perspective for Interpreting Canon Law

Emphasizes Need to Seek Out the Mind of the Church

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Just as the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council requires thinking and feeling with the Church, so the right interpretation of canon law demands the same perspective.

The Pope emphasized this in an address Saturday to the members of the Roman Rota.

With his characteristic precision, the Holy Father examined various missteps in the interpretation of canon law.

"[T]rue law is inseparable from justice," he said. "Obviously [this] principle also holds for canon law in the sense that it cannot be shut up in a merely human normative system but must be connected to a just order of the Church in which a superior law reigns."

Interpretation of canon law, the Pontiff added, "must occur in the Church."

"It is not a question of a mere external, environmental circumstance: it is a return to the very 'humus' of canon law and the realities it regulates," he said. "The dictum 'sentire cum Ecclesiae' (thinking or feeling with the Church) is also relevant to disciplinary matters by reason of the doctrinal foundations that are always present and at work in the Church's legal norms."

The Holy Father said the "hermeneutic of renewal in continuity," which he has advocated in interpreting Vatican II, "is so closely connected to current canonical legislation."

"Christian maturity leads one to an ever greater love of the law and a desire that it be faithfully applied," he stated.

Interpretation is "a task that is enlivened by an authentic contact with the whole reality of the Church, that seeks to penetrate the true meaning of the letter of the law. Something occurs that is similar to what I have said about the interior process of St. Augustine in biblical hermeneutics: 'transcending the letter made the letter itself credible.' Thus we confirm that even in legal hermeneutics the juridical truth to be loved, sought and served provides the authentic horizon."

Matrimony and holy orders

The Bishop of Rome stressed that this perspective has a "peculiar relevance in the sphere of the laws regarding the constitutive act of matrimony and its consummation and the reception of sacred orders, and to those pertaining to the respective processes."

Harmony with the true meaning of the Church's law in these matters has "profound practical importance in the life of persons and communities," he said and it thus "requires special attention."

The Pope concluded by recognizing the effort required of the members of the Roman Rota, and entrusting them to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Speculum iustitiae" (Mirror of Justice).

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-34170?l=english