Pronouncements, Papal and Curial

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The pronouncements of the Holy See, either directly from the pope, or through the various offices of the Roman Curia. Certain documents are used for teaching faith and morals; some for church governance, and others for disciplinary purposes.

Documents of the Pope. The decretal letter is one of the most solemn forms of papal proclamations. It is presently used for the canonization of saints and is generally presumed to invoke infallibility.

An encyclical is a pastoral letter written by the pope for the entire Church. Encyclicals are used to present the moral and social teachings of the Church, or to give counsel on points of doctrine which must be made more precise or which must be taught in view of specific circumstances.

The apostolic constitution is the most solemn form of legal document issued by the pope in his own name; it is issued only in relation to very weighty matters. For instance, the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church was promulgated as a constitution, Sacrae disciplinae leges, Jan. 25, 1983; the same for the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Oct. 18, 1990. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was formally published through the constitution Fidei depositum (Oct. 11, 1992).

The apostolic letter motu proprio is the most common source of canonical legislation after the Code itself. It deals with matters that are significant, but would not merit a constitution. Motu proprios are legislative in nature and are directed to the Church at large. More recently, the pope has been using a more general form, simply entitled Apostolic letter to make proclamations. For instance, the letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994) addressed the issue of admission of women to priestly ordination: "I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church's faithful." The preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000 were also announced in an apostolic letter, Tertio millennio adveniente (Nov. 10, 1994). The place this type of papal document will occupy in years to come is not yet totally clear. There is no doubt that it is considered to be a major papal document.

apostolic exhortations are also a significant expression of the magisterium of the Church; although they are not legislative in nature, they are morally persuasive and quite influential because they are frequently the product of consensus.

Papal allocutions are the regular addresses given by the pope on the occasion of meetings with bishops, congresses, pilgrimages, and so forth. These express the ordinary papal magisterium; they are not legislative by nature. However, the repetition of a given theme in a number of allocutions gives particular insight into the personal thought of the pope on the matter. For instance, the annual addresses to the Roman Rota at the opening of the judicial year constitute a privileged opportunity for the pope to express his views of matters relating to the application of procedural law and the canons on marriage.

The Second Vatican Council recognized the diversity of texts and their particular significance when used by the pope to further his teaching. "His mind and will may be known chiefly either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking" (LG 25). Canon 754 addresses this in legislative terms: "All Christ's faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which lawful ecclesiastical authority issues for the purpose of proposing doctrine or of proscribing erroneous opinions; this holds particularly for those published by the Roman Pontiff or by the College of Bishops."

Curial Documents. The decree is the highest form of document issued by a department of the Roman Curia. It is a law whose interpretation is governed by the canons on laws (see canon 29). The term decree is given many practical meanings: 1) where it is used in administrative matters, it is applied to designate the decisions of the Roman dicasteries (for instance, the approval of the Constitutions of a religious institute); 2) in legislative matters, the term is applied specifically to disciplinary laws (for instance, the undated decree of the Cong. for the Doctrine of the Faith prescribing an automatic excommunication for any person who abuses the sacrament of penance by using tape recorders and similar means of social communicationAAS, 80 (1988), p. 1367); 3) in judicial matters, the various procedural decisions taken by the judge (as, for instance, the decisions of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura).

Instructions clarify the prescriptions of laws and determine an approach to be followed in implementing them (see canon 34).

Declarations are of three types: 1) the simple declaration, which must be interpreted in the light of existing legislation (such as the Declaration of the CDF relating to membership in Masonic organizations, Nov. 26, 1983); 2) authentic interpretations or declarations, which have the force of law and must be promulgated (such as those issued by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts); 3) extensive declarations, which to a certain extent modify the law, by having it apply to instances not originally covered by the legislation.

Circular letters express the intentions and policies of the Roman Curia. When accompanied by rules, these letters explain the intention, spirit and purpose of these rules (for instance, the letter and norms governing dispensations from the obligations of priestly celibacy, Oct. 18, 1980, as revised slightly, June 6, 1997).

Directories, such as the 1993 Directory for Ecumenism (March 25, 1993) are given for the application of accepted principles and are seen as "an instrument at the service of the whole Church [whose] orientations and norms of universal application provide consistency and coordination with the discipline that binds Catholics together" (No. 6). The importance of a directory lies in the fact that it provides the basic principles of pastoral theology, taken from the magisterium of the Church, by which pastoral action in the ministry can be more fittingly directed and governed.

Classification. Documents can be examined from a descriptive approach, according to form and the authorities who issued them. But they can also be classified according to their juridical value or weight. Some documents are magisterial (flowing from the munus docendi ), while others are juridical (based on the munus regendi ). Those that are juridical can be either laws in the proper sense of the term, or administrative documents for the whole community; they can bind only the executors of the law (such as texts addressed particularly to bishops), or even be non-binding (such as guidelines).

Bibliography: j. m. huels, "A Theory of Juridical Documents Based on Canons 2934," Studia canonica 32 (1998) 337370. e. labandiera, "Clasificación de las normas escritas canónicas," Ius canonicum 29 (1989) 679693. f. g. morrisey, Papal and Curial Pronouncements: Their Canonical Significance in Light of the "Code of Canon Law" (Ottawa 1995). l. wÄchter, Gesetz im kanonischem Recht: eine rechtssprachliche une systematisch-normative Untersuchung zu Grundproblemen der Erfassung des Gesetzes im katholischen Kirchenrecht, Müchener theologische Studien, III, Kanonistische Abteilung, Bd. 43 (St. Otilien 1989).

[f. g. morrissey]