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Thursday, 22 November 2001


Venerable Cardinals and Patriarchs
Brothers in the episcopate and in the priesthood,
Distinguished scholars of Canon Law!

I am pleased to address your distinguished Congress, which meets to observe the 10th anniversary of the taking effect of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

In the name of the Holy Father, I greet respectfully and cordially all pres-ent, beginning with the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, His Beatitude Ignace Moussa I Daoud. I also greet the two Vice-Presidents of the Symposium, Archbishop Julián Herranz, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and Bishop Emilio Eid, former Vice-President of the Commission that prepared the Code, with all the Members of the scientific committee and the steering committee.

Harmony between Bishop, priests, faithful and consecrated persons

1. For my part, I have always carefully followed the history of the preparation of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, whose promulgation took place in the year in which I was called to the office of the Secretary of State. I could say that we grew up together! In these ten years I have come to know well the sentiments of deep affection that the Pope has towards the Oriental Churches. So I gladly bear witness to the paternal solicitude with which he fosters their active pastoral presence in today's world. For this reason, 11 years or so ago, he rejoiced especially over the promulgation of the new Code, in which he saw, and still sees, a qualified means for promoting harmony and understanding among the various components of each Oriental Church.

The Pope delighted in highlighting the motto chosen as the theme of the present Symposium:  "Lex Ecclesiarum - vehiculum caritatis:  Law of the Churches - instrument of charity".

In fact, if every Christian is called to make his/her personal contribution to the growth of this love within the ecclesial community, it is clear that an entirely particular contribution is rightly awaited from him who has a greater responsibility in the community. With this in mind, knowing well the thought of the Holy Father, I would like to address the central role, in the "dynamic of charity", of the Pastor of that portion of the People of God that is the "eparchy".

The divine origin of the Episcopate

2. The Second Vatican Council specifies that the Bishop governs the eparchy as the vicar and legate of Christ, with proper, ordinary and immediate jurisdiction. Only the supreme authority of the Church can circumscribe the exercise of this power within certain limits, in view of the good of the Church and of the faithful (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 27).

This affirmation of the Council, of great doctrinal importance, was formulated for all the "particular Churches", for the Eastern eparchies and for the Latin dioceses. It is worth noting, however, that an entire canon (cf. canon 178) has been devoted to this point only in the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches. The reason can be found in that "forma regiminis traditionalis" (traditional form of governance), specific to the East, that is embodied in the patriarchal Churches (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n.11). In those Churches, before a bishop is ordained, he must not only promise obedience to the Roman Pontiff, but also to the Patriarch in those things in which he is subject to him according to the norm of law (cf. canon 187, 2).

The primacy of Peter

3. This is a point that, in my judgment, merits further study. In the Church of Christ, there is no super-episcopal power and, even more so, there is no super-metropolitan, except the supreme power, that Christ entrusted to Peter and to his successors. Therefore, the Bishops of the Eastern Churches, when they obey their Patriarchs in those affairs in which they are subject to them, or when they obey the decisions of the Synods of the patriarchal Churches, know that this is required inasmuch as the Patriarchs and the Synods of the patriarchal Churches have been made participants iure canonico of the supreme authority of the Church, that is, by the design of Christ, the only authority that can circumscribe the exercise of episcopal power.

The supreme authority can even extend this participation to broader dimensions. This is what happens in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, where the desire of the Second Vatican Council has been fulfilled regarding the restoration of the patriarchal Churches to the splendour of the first millennium (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n. 9). With this "norma iuris", that is intentionally vast, the breadth of the participation of the Patriarchs and the Synods of the patriarchal Churches in the supreme authority that Christ established in the Church is defined. Only in the light of this norm can one appreciate adequately the greatness of the figure of the Patriarch as "Pater et Caput" of his Church. This is obviously valid for all Patriarchs indistinctly:  for those who govern the most ancient patriarchal Churches as well as for those of the Churches sui iuris that the supreme authority of the Church has elevated or might wish to elevate, to the rank of patriarchal Churches, following the explicit wish of Vatican Council II (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n.11).

On this point, the well known affirmation of the Council Fathers, set forth in the Decree on the Catholic eastern Churches retains its validity:  "Since the patriarchal system is the traditional form of government in the Eastern Churches, the holy ecumenical council wishes that, where there is need, new patriarchates be set up. This is reserved to an ecumenical council or to the Roman Pontiff" (ibid. n. 11).

The exercise of the Primacy

4. The desire of the Successor of Peter, as you can well imagine, is to do everything possible so that all the patriarchal Churches shine with the greatest splendour. It is necessary that they carry out, with new and ever increasing apostolic vigour, the mission entrusted to them in the heart of the universal Church for the eternal salvation of souls (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n.1).

From this point of view, the participation of the Patriarchs and of the Synods of the patriarchal Churches in the supreme authority of the Church, as contained in the "norma iuris" established by this same authority, is in reality quite broad. In substance, it corresponds to what was formulated in the canons of various Councils, starting with the Council of Nicea in 325. The necessary adaptations of this "norma iuris" that the Second Vatican Council wished to see made for the present circumstances of the Church (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n. 9) - have not lessened it, but strengthened it, thanks primarily to the increased possibility of communication with the Roman Pontiff, Head of the College of Bishops, to whose pastoral governance are equally entrusted the Churches in the East as well as those in the West (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n. 6).

The "principle of territoriality"

5. It seems opportune to recall here the "principle of territoriality", that was firmly upheld by all the ecumenical Councils, including the Second Vatican Council (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n. 7), and which the Holy Father wanted the experts to keep in mind as they drafted the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches. The members of the Commission that prepared the Code - with the six Eastern Patriarchs being pre-eminent among them - demonstrated that they understood this (principle) perfectly:  in the course of the Plenary Assembly of November 1988, after the matter was brought to their attention by the Holy Father, they abandoned a motion that had been signed by 15 members aimed at obtaining the extension of patriarchal jurisdiction to the whole world. The Pope had asked for the Code to be drafted in accord with both the traditions of the Oriental Churches and the decisions of the Councils, including those of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II did not accept the request to extend Patriarchal jurisdiction beyond the legitimately established boundaries of the patriarchal Church. From that point on, the assembly did its work quietly and effectively. In fact it was evident to all that the draft of the Code presented by the Assembly, the fruit of almost 20 years of assiduous work, finished with the collaboration of the entire Episcopate of the Eastern Churches, and even on the theme of territoriality, was in accord with the Oriental traditions and the decisions of Councils.

On this same occasion, however, the Pope added that, for the Churches having faithful outside their territory, he would be happy to "consider, once the Code was promulgated, Synod proposals making clear reference to the norms of the Code, judging it opportune to address specific situations a "ius speciale" that would be in effect "ad tempus" (cf. "Nuntia", n. 29, p. 27). He repeated this willingness again on the occasion of the promulgation of the Code, when he presented the new juridical text to the Synod of Bishops (cf. n. 12, AAS 83 [1991] 492).

You also know that the Code foresees the possibility of a revision of the territorial boundaries of a Patriarchal Church. Canon 146, 2 clearly indicates the path to be followed in this case. It is up to the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church to study the question, after having listened to the higher administrative authority of each sui iuris Church that is involved. The Synod must then present the proposal, with the necessary documentation, to the Roman Pontiff. Evidently, one assumes that we are dealing with proposals which do not intend to change the principle of territoriality sanctioned by the ecumenical Councils, but only to change boundaries for reasons of a particular character.

Confidence in the future

6. To close, I would like to recall the closing words of the Apostolic Constitution Sacri canones, which accompanied the promulgation of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In that solemn document the Pope addressed to all the invitation to accept the Code "with a peaceful spirit and with confidence that its observance would draw on all the Eastern Churches that heavenly grace that will cause them to prosper ever more throughout the world" (AAS 82 [1990] 1044).

In particular, concerning the definition of territorial jurisdiction, in his discourse at the Eighth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (held in the fall of 1990), the Pope repeated that the norms regarding this jurisdiction "have been repeatedly at the centre of my attention and I finally decided (to keep them) as they are in the Code, because the Supreme Pontiff considers them necessary for the good of the universal Church and to protect its right order and the fundamental and necessary rights of man redeemed by Christ" (n. 11:  AAS 83 [1991] 492). "Have faith, he concluded, that the "Lord of lords' and the "King of kings' will never allow the diligent observance of these laws to harm the good of the Oriental Churches" (ibid., n.12, p. 492).

It seems to me that the act of faith that the Pope asked for, has become even more necessary, so that, with the help of God and the generous efforts of all, the Code, now in its tenth year of life, may become ever more an "instrument of charity" for all. Thus the hope expressed 1,600 years ago by the great Patriarch of Constantinople, St John Chrysostom will be fulfilled:  "Whoever says Church does not say division, but union and concord" (In I Cor, PG 61, 13).