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Marriage tribunals must provide justice and pastoral care, says Pope

Pope Francis released his first apostolic exhortation today (CNS)

Members of a marriage tribunal must aim to provide both justice and pastoral care to the couples they encounter, Pope Francis has said.

“Workers involved in the ministry of Church justice” act in the name of the Church”, the Pope said during a meeting with members of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest tribunal.

“The service of justice is a commitment of apostolic life,” he said, and “must be exercised with one’s gaze kept fixed on the icon of the Good Shepherd, who bends down toward the lost and wounded sheep.”

The Apostolic Signatura, in addition to hearing appeals of lower court decisions and administrative decisions by Vatican congregations, oversees the functioning of Church tribunals and procedures.

Part of that responsibility, Pope Francis said, is to help diocesan bishops identify and train “ministers of justice”. including the marriage tribunal official known as the “defender of the bond”.

The advocates of those seeking annulment must present evidence that the marriage was null from the beginning. The defender of the bond, on the other hand, seeks to prove that an indissoluble marriage bond exists.

While Pope Francis has been seeking advice from bishops on making the annulment process quicker and more merciful, he told members of the Apostolic Signatura that truth and justice must be protected.

“The defender of the bond who wants to serve well cannot stop at a quick reading of the acts, or at bureaucratic and generic responses,” the Pope said. “In his delicate task, he is called to harmonise the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law with the concrete situations found in the Church and society.”

Pope Francis asked members of the Apostolic Signatura, which is led by American Cardinal Raymond Burke, to “persevere in the search for a transparent and correct exercise of justice in the Church in response to the legitimate desires that the faithful address to their pastors, especially when they ask for an authoritative clarification of their status.”