Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


7 jan 2013

Reading notes on papal address to the Roman Rota





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Pius XII


Paul VI

John Paul II

Benedict XVI

Once a year (usually in January) the pope delivers a formal address to the Roman Rota in which he outlines various themes important for canonical jurisprudence, particularly, matrimonial jurisprudence.


Papal address to the Roman Rota are delivered in Italian. English versions of these addresses are available in W. Woestman, ed., Papal Allocutions to the Roman Rota 1939-1994 (St. Paul University, 1994); later editions through 2011 are also available. Review: J. Diermeier, The Jurist 72 (2012) 315-317. A French collection of these addresses is available in J. Thorn, Le Pape s'adresse à la Rote, 1939-1994 (Université Saint-Paul, 1994). Beginning with John Paul II, authorized French and English translations were prepared by the Vatican. Over time Portuguese, Spanish, and German translations were added.


Red-letter addresses seem to me to be especially important.


Some papal addresses to the Rota (e.g. 1941) served as fontes for the 1983 Code. They are marked herein



Pope John Paul II addresses

the Roman Rota in 2002

Pope Pius XII



See also


Background on

the Roman Rota


Sample Rotal case

coram Filipiak (1956)


Tribunale della

Rota Romana


Rev. Rhode's

photo gallery of

Rotal auditors


Msgr. Cormac Burke retired Rotal auditor





2 Oct 1939: Rhetorical encouragement to those in Rotal work. Italian text.


1 Oct 1940: A declaration of nullity belongs by natural right to those who (at least) are not the culpable cause of nullity. Italian text.


3 Oct 1941: Upholds the natural right to marry in terms difficult to square with the continued obligation of canon form; upholds hierarchic ends of marriages in terms difficult to square with Gaudium et spes and 1983 Code (yet to come, of course); judges should not regard innovations in sciences as unusable in tribunal work just because they are new; distinguishes moral certainty (or prudent certainty) from absolute certainty; and, explains papal dissolutions as vicarious exercises of divine power. Italian text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1055 § 1, 1060, 1141, 1608 §§ 1, 3.


1 Oct 1942: Judges should not have resort to presumptions when there is sufficient evidence at hand; moral certainty lies between absolute certainty and mere probability; it lies beyond well-founded or reasonable doubt, and is both necessary and sufficient for judgment even in the face of the possibility of achieving absolute certainty in a particular case; it can arise from varied indicators which, taken alone, do not provide moral certainty, but whose coincidence in a case suggests a common origin in truth; moral certainty cannot exist if, objectively speaking, there are probable indications of the contrary in a case; judicial procedures should assist, and not impede, the search for truth, but conflicts in this area are a matter for reference to the legislator; the judge shall apply his own knowledge and conscience in the "free weighing" evidence according to law, but never in such a way as to allow procedural law to overcome his personal certainty about an issue (such conflicts usually being apparent, not real); and, moral certainty admits of degrees depending on the subject matter being weighed. Italian text. See also Anon. "Synopsis et annotationes", Periodica de re Canonica 31 (1942) 358-366. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1608 § 1.


1943: No address reported.


2 Oct 1944: The three unities of a matrimonial trial are end (judgment in accord with truth and law), direction (of personnel working to achieve this end) and obligation (divine law as source); decisions obtained in fraud of any essential aspect of case do not avail before God or in conscience; no officers of tribunal should lose sight of fundamental search for truth, regardless of the character of their judicial assignments; DOBs should have sufficient experience of life and maturity of judgment; PPs in dissolution cases have a natural right make use of counsel; internal and external fora must be kept distinct, but preeminence is accorded the internal; and, the perfection of ecclesiastical judicial activity is measured by the degree it imitates civil judicial activity. Italian text. See also P. Aguirre, "Summarium-annotationes", Periodica de re Canonica 34 (1945) 101-106.


2 Oct 1945: Solid, Thomistic distinctions between nature of Church and State, summarized thus: there is no power in the Church derived from the people; and, ecclesiastical authority legitimately reaches the whole human person without it committing thereby the error of the secular totalitarians. See also P. Aguirre, "Synopsis-annotationes", Periodica de re Canonica 34 (1945) 256-263.


6 Oct 1946: Defensive replies to remarks in the media about alleged forced conversions to Catholicism in Croatia; laments disregard of parental rights in education; ambiguous remarks about ecclesiastical recognition of civil annulments and the conclusions that can be drawn from the number of matrimony cases before the Rota; and, defends practice of secret sessions in Holy Office. Italian text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1141.


29 Oct 1947: Obvious criticism of Communist totalitarian regimes; and judging belongs to the Church and to the office of bishop by their very nature. Italian text.


1948: No address reported.


13 Nov 1949: Human law deprived of its natural foundations quickly disintegrates into legal positive and state absolutism; obvious references to insufficient positivistic defenses offered at Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, and, blame for such thinking is laid at the feet of unnamed 19th century legal philosophers. Italian text.


1950-1957: No addresses reported.


Pope John XXIII



1958: No address reported.


19 Oct 1959: General encouragement to those in Rotal work. Italian text.


25 Oct 1960: General encouragement to those in Rotal work. Italian text.


13 Dec 1961: Observed that nearly half of the Rota's cases in last year were heard without charge; and, observes that "guilty" spouses are still accorded ways of reconciling themselves to God. Italian text.


1962: No address reported.


Pope Paul VI



12 Dec 1963: Tribunal personnel are bound in conscience to seek the truth. Italian text.


1964: No address reported.


11 Jan 1965: Stresses the importance of avoiding even the semblance of injustice by ferreting out weak cases before submission or adjudication; reminds tribunal personnel that their decisions can have an impact on parties' moral standing; and, urges avoidance of procedural delays that can deprive parties of justice. Italian text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1611, 4°, 1614,


25 Jan 1966: General encouragement to those in Rotal work. Italian text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1614.


23 Jan 1967: Criticism of Italy's proposed divorce law. Italian text.


12 Feb 1968: Judging is inextricably bound up with governing; overview of some prominent moments and persons in the history of Rota; prediction that Rotal jurisprudence will find its way into the revised Code; noting the appropriateness of using medical and psychological insights within canonical analysis; and, a call for more students to pursue canon law. Italian text (wrongly dated to 13 Feb). See also C. Lefèbvre, "Pauli VI verba de Rotali iurisprudentia necnon de studiis iuris canonici", Periodica de re Canonica 58 (1969) 117-142.


27 Jan 1969: Exercise of ecclesiastical juridical functions rests on sound ecclesiology; it is a pastoral, not legalistic, function that draws on Christ more as governor than sanctifier; and, judges must be individuals of personal integrity. Italian text.


29 Jan 1970: The correct exercise of aequitas requires awareness of subjective factors impacting cases; those who pit law against freedom misunderstand the varied notions of law found as early as Scripture; authority is a Christ-given reality in the Church; and, coercive power in the Church serves salvific ends. Italian text.


28 Jan 1971: Emphasis on authority as service should not be exaggerated to the point where the community assumes an undue ecclesiological prestige that it does not really enjoy; judicial power is necessary to legislative power lest it be ineffective; the Church must not borrow juridic notions uncritically from civil institutions; and, juridical formalism is important, but must be balanced with a "pastoral" approach to the application of law. Italian text.


28 Jan 1972: The dangers of widespread antinomianism; and, law must be applied with pastoral solicitude and charity. Italian text.


8 Feb 1973: Canonical equity is the category most applicable to pastorality in canon law; canon law is a constitutive element of the Church; the external structure of the Church is sacrament of its internal life; law serves the life of the Spirit; the new Code must take its inspiration from the Council; several examples of how judicial actions serve the People of God; urges tempering of the application of law to meet needs not articulated in law (a notion whose tone, though not words, has in practice been detrimental to the stability that good law should offer society); pastoral priorities must not become a new form of authoritarianism; unbridled resort to equity is harmful; notes need for more canon law students. Italian text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1612 § 1.


31 Jan 1974: Tribunal judges participate in apostolic authority; canonical judging must stay the course during times of systemic relativism; canonical judges judge actions, not the law (as a result of a legislative supremacy); and, scolding of D'Avack for his attack on marriage law. Italian text.


30 Jan 1975: Sympathy for those judicial officers on the Rota being criticized; judges must accept the demands made on them in cases involving points of natural and divine law; affirmative overview of Causas matrimoniales; suggestion that procedural law might be promulgated before rest of Code; and, goal of legal reform is more pastoral application of just laws. Italian text.


9 Feb 1976: Lack of conjugal love can never be the basis of matrimonial invalidity; covenant language is expressly used over contract; and, very clear descriptions of binding character of marriage and the impossibility of (intrinsic) dissolution after exchange of consent. A remarkably frank talk. Latin text. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1055 § 1, 1057 § 1.


4 Feb 1977: New Code cannot simply update 1917 Code, it must be a clear articulation of rights; conciliar goals of renewed faith and charity must be reflected in new Code; canons are indispensable in the pursuit of these goals, but they are not the goals themselves; true exercise of canonical rights demands acceptance of duties and a willingness to exercise those rights within communion of the Church; asserts (unguardedly?) that rights are given for the building up of the Church (rather than being recognized as inherent in persons); briefly looks at judicial activity in light of three-fold munera; cautions against regarding laity as mere subjects in instead of as co-workers; new Code will make law appear as one facet of Church life, not as the most important facet; new Code should take seriously the idea that the Church exists all over the world (and not, presumably, simply in Europe); overview of Principia quae; with increase in discretion for authority comes increase in need to articulate basic rights; administrative tribunals will be in place, but there is concern that such tribunals might hamper the exercise of justice in the Church if moderation in their use is not observed; and, brief indications of where secrecy might be permissible in cases. Latin text.


28 Jan 1978: To act with "diligence" in law means to act with a certain affection toward it; offers encouragement for pursuing expeditiousness but with avoidance of harmful haste; criticism of those who are manipulating law on domicile and "inventing" jurisprudence that is not in conformity with Magisterium; praises regional tribunals (for their ability to concentrate talent in tribunals); judges must frequently study conciliar teachings and incorporate them in their work; compliments lay jurists; and, reminds Rota of its historical and current importance. Italian text. See also L. del Amo, =, Revista Española de Derecho Canónico 34 (1978) 63-102.


Some other studies

  • A. Arena, "The jurisprudence of the Sacred Roman Rota: its development and direction after the Second Vatican Council", Studia Canonica 12 (1978) 265-293.

Pope John Paul II


Note: All versions of John Paul II's Rotal addresses can be found here. Below, dates of addresses are linked to the Vatican's English text.

17 Feb 1979: Judges should follow the law out of respect for the human person; they should pursue justice, equity, and charity; canon law serves to foster communion, even in the application of penalties; and, the correct exercise of rights takes place with regard for the common good. See also J. Serrano Ruiz, "Iustitia Ecclesiae in mundo huius temporis", Periodica de re Canonica 68 (1979) 377-402.


4 Feb 1980: Quoting Barbosa (1624) “Truth is the basis, foundation, and mother of justice”; undeveloped remarks distinguishing between “acts and proofs”; judges’ first duty is faithfulness to the law; many if not most nullity cases come down to consent issues; frequent quotations from earlier Rotal addresses. Fontes: 1983 CIC 1608 §§ 1, 2, 4.


24 Jan 1981: Annulments declared too easily will threaten the validity of future marriages; and, upholds the preeminence of Rotal decisions in words difficult to reconcile with Canon 16, the obvious evolution that has occurred in Rotal cases themselves, and other factors that influence the administration of justice.


28 Jan 1982: New Rotal norms went into effect; Christian marriage establishes a domestic Church; infidelity is a cross for spouses but not a nullification of consent; judges must not let a single expert exert undue influence over decision; the fact that marriage cases can always be reopened (as status of persons cases) is no excuse for winking at requirements of moral certainty; and, DOB cannot be a judge at the same time (and not just in the same case, as would be obvious).


26 Feb 1983: Rota cases did influence the new Code, the opening of Book II should be regarded as fundamental charter of rights of the faithful; and, shorter time limits for cases should not lessen attention to accuracy of results.


26 Jan 1984: Judges must know the law, all of it; they must know the mind of the legislator and the reasons of the law; their first duty toward law is fidelity; 20 years of flux and debate should not detract from applying the law as it now is, even if it is yet imperfect; respect for old Code should not blind one to genuine innovations in the new Code; speedier resolution of cases is demanded by new Code; good suggestion that many cases decided the same way provides an interpretive method in jurisprudence; cc. 1095 and 1098 are deliberately worded generically and need to be explored by Rotal activity; modern science can help the Church avoid defending what only has the appearance of marriage; and, cases are to be decided on merits and not be seen as an opportunity to pursue an otherwise worthy or unworthy agenda.


1985: No address (the pope was in South America).


30 Jan 1986: Adjudication of cases must not be needlessly delayed; couples should not be pushed into seeking non-tribunal resolutions of marriage questions due to judicial delays; and, Rota should maintain spirit of cooperation with other dicasteries.


5 Feb 1987: Tribunal experts might be using an incomplete anthropology, in which case their observations to the judges will be seriously wanting; judges must find genuine incapacity for marriage, not merely difficulty in living it out; there must always be left an appreciation of free will and its application, or lack thereof, in one’s life; judges must not allow experts to dictate results of cases, and they must become versed in social sciences, if only to assess better the input of experts; and, rejection of nullity petitions occasions a search for new ways for couples to live with the truth.


25 Jan 1988: DOBs have duties and may not regard their office as mere opportunities to raise defense; DOBs must have a healthy sense of “normality”, a sense based on Christian anthropology; canon law understands that “normal” people face moderate psychological difficulties without threat to the validity of their marriages; experts should have access to substantial information on the parties before rendering opinions; DOBs should consider alternative theories of matrimonial failure (possibly ruling out nullity thereby), including the refusal of some people to struggle with their marriage; DOBs have their own right of appeal; DOBs should not pretend to an expertise in social sciences that they do not have; and, they should not be satisfied with routine recitations of standard defenses, but should serve as effective advocates of matrimonial stability and endurance. See also G. Versaldi, "Animadversiones quaedam relate ad Allocutionem Ioannis Pauli II ad Romanam Rotam diei 25 ianuarii 1988", Periodica de re Canonica 78 (1988) 243-260.


26 Jan 1989: Acknowledgment that Rotal addresses are aimed at all in ecclesiastical tribunal work; new Code is much clearer than was old one that the right of defense is very important; both sides enjoy a right of defense and even if it is not exercised (pace penal trials where it must be exercised, even vicariously) and so it must be offered (including notice of joinder and opportunity to review evidence to be used); exceptions to the exercise of right of defense must be very narrow; even non-cooperative parties must receive notice of sentence and explanation of opportunities for review, including notice that parties could appeal directly to Rota; hedges on duty to disclose evidence when it came from witnesses who assert some sort of privilege against disclosure, though reminds people that they should be willing to speak the truth and accept the implications; and, outlines confidentiality obligations. See also F. Daneels, "De iure defensionis. Brevis commentarius ad allocutionem Summi Pontificis diei 26 ianuarii 1989 ad Rotam Romanam", Periodica de re Canonica 79 (1990) 243-266.


18 Jan 1990: The “pastoral” in canon law is all that contributes to the welfare of souls, thus, not just exceptions to the application of law (e.g., as directed by canonical equity); juridical activity is by its nature pastoral, and one can hardly lead souls to heaven without the love shown by insisting on observing laws and rights of the faithful; charity always takes account of justice; people have a right not to be deceived with false declarations of nullity; and, while trials are to avoided, they still represent a victory for civilization


28 Jan 1991: Marriage can thrive in any culture, but some cultural influences, especially in un-evangelized cultures, can harm marriage; the Code is a major document implementing Vatican II; and, all marriage law (and hence nullity cases) boils down to capacity, consent, and form.


23 Jan 1992: The task of Church law is to bring the immutable demands of divine law to new generations that will observe them in different manners, but with the same content; and, compares Catechism of the Catholic Church to new Code.


29 Jan 1993: Law is a means to pursue justice and preserve peace; law is pointless if not observed; suggestion that most questions about proper interpretation will occur in early years of the Code; interpretation of law takes place within the pontifical commission, but also within legislative, executive, and judicial organs of the Church; the proper meaning of words should arise from juridic disciplines, not other sciences; undefined "humanitarianism" is a danger to sound canonical interpretation; simulation must arise from a positive act of the will; error of law must condition the will in order to render marriage null; and, error of person, to be nullifying, must place the desired quality ahead of the person.


28 Jan 1994: Justice has its own splendor; living the truth is not easy; tribunal personnel should have a healthy prayer life; rights must be exercised with regard for obligations; do not exploit loopholes in law in order to achieve vague "pastoral" results; law serves by being applied as well as by being mitigated; it is not easy to judge cases; law serves communio; and, law should strive to inform consciences, especially since well formed consciences live the demands of law so much better than unformed ones.


10 Feb 1995: Proper anthropology is essential to good judging; experts who reject Christian anthropology cannot assist tribunals; judges are free to evaluate declaration of parties in accord with their conscience; personal conscience cannot create personal law; bishops are not free to dispense form procedural laws, and, internal forum solutions must operate with regard for objective law.


22 Jan 1996: Matrimonial nullity cases are complex and must have regard for procedures in general and the notion that status of persons questions should not remain unresolved for too long; one has a right to an answer, though not to a declaration of nullity or validity per se; delaying tactics should never be permitted; assertions of violations of the right of defense can be exaggerated, and need in any case to be heard with awareness of the fact that status of persons cases never become res judicata; each case must be attentive to the unrepeatable uniqueness of the parties; judges must be able to move beyond preconceived mental categories that are not valid in every culture or time; the Rota contributed to the new Code, but itself owes a debt to the advancement of social sciences; auditors come from around the world for a reason. See also E. Peters, “Tribunals look for cues in Pope's address” National Catholic Register (9 June 1996), p. 7.


27 Jan 1997: The bond of matrimony is distinguishable from an intimate sharing of married life and love; personalist interpretation must not conflict with magisterial teachings; relations between spouses (and children) have an element of justice about them and therefore are juridically examinable; canonical norms represent anthropological and theological realties; excessive individualism damages the bond of marriage; science helps judges find the minimum necessary for capacity and consent in actual cases.


17 Jan 1998: Church laws serve the Church's supernatural purpose; all sorts of trials are to be conducted in the spirit of charity; canon law should have frequent resort to Vatican II; other tribunals should conform to the "authoritative model" of Rotal jurisprudence, now aided by more timely publication of Rotal sentences; announcement of interdicasterial commission to draft norms to improve matrimony trials; another warning against cultural blinders in judges; and, models for assessing marriage need to be updated in light of advances in other disciplines.


21 Jan 1999: The Rota serves as a reference point for other tribunals; commitment is what makes amor become conjugalis; suggestion that consent is more important than the manner in which which it is expressed; that is why simulation cases can be heard, and why weddings marked by simulation are doomed to failure; de facto unions lack commitment and hence are not conjugal, even less so are homosexual unions; startlingly frank quotation from Romans 1:28; and, do not read Canon 1095 too broadly, but the wording here suggests that it is a sort of impediment.


21 Jan 2000: Intention against permanence must be demonstrated by a positive act of the will for nullity, even in a heavily divorced-saturated society; or does it, if it impacts the will; the pope can never dissolve a ratified and consummated marriage, and this position is to be definitively held by all the faithful; and, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has great doctrinal authority in virtue of collegial preparation and pontifical publication.


1 Feb 2001: Nature is the foundation of culture, not just a mutable representation of it; sacramentalization of marriage by Christ did not deprive it of its natural elements; without openness to children there can be no true good of the spouses; matrimony is the only sacrament not ordered to the attainment of supernatural ends; and, Canon 1095 must not be interpreted in a way so as to make it all but impossible for people, especially non-Catholics, to enter into marriage.


28 Jan 2002: Indissolubility is part of the nature of marriage; tribunals help keep the faithful from lapsing into subjectivism with regard to their status in the Church; civil judges must comply with moral norms on cooperation with evil when it comes to hearing divorce cases; and, civil lawyers should not work on divorce cases when the goal is to permit remarriage, but instead only insofar as divorce is being pursued to protect other legitimate ends (cf. CCC 2383). This address occasioned considerable controversy.


30 Jan 2003: Sacramental aspects of marriage illuminate natural aspects; real efforts at convalidation of impugned marriages should be made; interestingly asserts that Church will not deny marriage to one who seeks to marry in accord with natural elements of marriage; and, appears to hold that intention against sacramentality should nullify matrimony only when that intention impacts a natural aspect of marriage.


29 Jan 2004: Marriage enjoys the favor of law, which is more than just a presumption of validity; this presumption applies to all licit human acts that affects one’s status; and, marriages can fail because people abuse freedom.


29 Jan 2005: Tribunals are not immune to subornation attempts; failure of marriage is not proof of its invalidity; bishops must be involved in their tribunals and actively oversee them; judges must remain above cultural prejudices and focus on truth; law and doctrine are closely connected; Word of God binds by its own authority and does not need positive ecclesiastical enactment to hold sway; and, judges must be broadly familiar with all Church teachings.


Some other studies

  • W. Varvaro, “Trends in rotal jurisprudence: surveying U.S.A. cases (1980-1985)”, Proceedings of the Canon Law Society of America 53 (1991) 019-062;

  • David Price, “Serving the Truth with Justice: An Analysis of Pope John Paul II's Allocutions to the Roman Rota”, The Jurist 53 (1993) 155-185;

  • W. Varvaro, “Rotal Jurisprudence 1985-1990”, Proceedings of the Canon Law Society of America 55 (1993) 156-166;

  • W. Varvaro, “Rotal jurisprudence in the 1990s”, Proceedings of the Canon Law Society of America 60 (1998) 224-242;

  • G. Comotti, “Considerazioni circa il valore giuridico delle allocuzione del Pontifice alla Rota romana”, Ius Ecclesiae 16 (2004) 30-40;

  • F. Morrisey, “Some themes to be found in the annual address of Pope John Paul II to the Roman Rota”, Studia Canonica 38 (2004) 301-328.


Pope Benedict XVI



28 Jan 2006: There is no conflict between "Dignitas Connubii" and the concerns of Synodal fathers at the Synod on the Eucharist (info here); tribunal processes are designed to serve the truth in an expeditious manner; every good judge knows that people need love; marriage impacts the community, so resolution of cases cannot be left the parties themselves; marriage nullity trials should not be cast as against one party; complacent attitudes toward marriage law might seem pastoral, but do not serve the good of the parties or of the Church; trials should be about more than “registering the failure” of a marriage.


27 Jan 2007: Matrimonial cases are, besides anything else, a search for the truth about the marriage; indissolubility arises not from the intensity of the commitment, but from the nature of marriage; a relativistic mindset can infiltrate the Church at many levels; judges must beware of interpretations of law that rupture continuity; the Rota is an effective and authoritative manifestation of the juridical wisdom of the Church.


26 Jan 2008: coming


29 Jan 2009: coming


29 Jan 2010: coming


22 Jan 2011: coming


21 Jan 2012: coming