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Eminent among the functions attributed to this Supreme Tribunal is the duty to ensure that justice is correctly administered in the whole Church[1].

This duty is commended in the apostolic constitution promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, Regimini Ecclesiae universae, which united the solicitude for all judicial cases and tribunals solely in the Apostolic Signatura[2]. To render effective its newly acquired competence, this Supreme Tribunal immediately issued its 1970 circular letter on the state and activity of ecclesiastical tribunals (AAS 63 [1971] 480-486), to which was attached a form for drawing up the annual report on the state and activity of each tribunal.

Now nearly fifty years later, given the many significant changes and transformations in the Church and in her law and structures during this period, it seemed most opportune that those norms and report form be revised and reissued.

These new norms must especially take into account the recent changes in both Codes of Canon Law on the processes for the declaration of marriage nullity, brought about by the two motu proprio Apostolic Letters, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et misericors Iesus.


Among the fundamental criteria for the recent reform of procedural law, there stands out the time-honored principle, lately reemphasized, of the Bishop exercising his original judicial function in the particular Church. “In order that a teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding a certain area of great importance finally be put into practice, it has been decided to declare openly that the bishop himself, in the church over which he has been appointed shepherd and head, is by that very fact the judge of those faithful entrusted to his care”[3].

What is said of the judicial function is likewise to be understood of the responsibility of a Bishop to be vigilant over the correct administration of justice in his particular Church[4]. Roman Pontiffs have not hesitated to call this duty to mind, repeatedly and explicitly, especially on the occasion of the annual allocutions to the Roman Rota[5].

Because of the close and innate bond of communion between Bishops and the Roman Pontiff, who is the Successor of Peter, the judicial office of Bishops in their particular Churches is indissolubly bound up with the Petrine office, which in its origin is meant to strengthen and support the office of Bishops. For, as the two recent motu proprio Apostolic Letters state, Bishops, together with the Roman Pontiff, have a share in the “ecclesial duty of safeguarding the unity of the faith and teaching regarding marriage, the source and center of the Christian family”[6].

It is out of this Petrine office that the Apostolic Signatura’s function to ensure the correct administration of justice in whole Church arises. From the time that this task was entrusted to it, this Supreme Tribunal has accordingly desired and continues to desire to carry it out “not with the mindset that everything should be deferred to it alone, but that it may offer fraternal help to the tribunals of Bishops scattered throughout the world and provide them with a service for the good of souls through the correct administration of justice”[7].


The attentive promotion of the administration of justice requires, as is only fitting, knowledge, that is, information concerning the state and activities of tribunals, on the part of both the Bishop Moderators and the Apostolic Signatura[8].

For which reason, each and every tribunal, be it diocesan or eparchial, interdiocesan or intereparchial, of the Latin Church or of the Eastern Churches, is obliged to prepare a yearly report on its state and activity, to be signed by the Judicial Vicar, using the accompanying form.

The form is to be carefully and accurately filled out and then reproduced in triplicate, the first copy being given to the Bishop Moderator, the second sent to the Apostolic Signatura, and the third kept in the tribunal archives.

The copy for this Supreme Tribunal is to be sent in each year in the month of January. This may be done by email, by postal service, by diplomatic pouch, or even by hand delivering a copy to the Chancery of the Apostolic Signatura.

Useful as well will be the Judicial Vicar’s comments that accompany the report, especially in the matters of:

1) the prior pastoral investigation described in articles 2-5 of the Rationes procedendi adjoined to the two motu proprio Apostolic Letters;

2) any instructional sections and their arrangements;

3) any possible changes in the arrangement of tribunals;

4) the norms that regulate procedural expenses, advocate fees and gratuitous legal assistance, and their observance[9];

5) the formation of tribunal ministers and any local initiatives related to their continued formation or to their obtaining academic degrees in canon law;

6) other important things that occur at the tribunal regarding judicial matters.

Sentences issued according to the briefer matrimonial process before the Bishop must also be reported on the attached form, since by them the Bishop himself exercises the judicial office. Indeed, the briefer matrimonial process, according to the recent reform, is inextricably linked to the tribunal, whether it be diocesan, eparchial, interdiocesan or intereparchial[10].


Having received and studied the report on the state and activity of a tribunal, the Apostolic Signatura will offer its observations. These observations are sent to the Bishop Moderator so that, if need be, he may investigate, make provisions, and then, should it be necessary, report back to the Apostolic Signatura. Thus, a dialogue is initiated between the first guarantor of the correct administration of justice, namely, the Bishop Moderator, and the Apostolic Signatura, which stands as the representative of the Holy Father’s solicitude in the same matter.

The observations of the Apostolic Signatura comprise many things, according to the specifics of each case: compliments, approvals, commendations, advice, suggestions, recommendations, cautions, examples, notices, expert opinions and encouragements; simply put, all those things that can be a help or assistance for tribunals, always without prejudice to the freedom of judges in pronouncing sentences.

On the basis of the reports on the state and activity of tribunals, the Apostolic Signatura is able to carry out its office with greater effectiveness, especially: granting dispensations from an academic degree in canon law in a more considered manner; making suggestions for the drawing up of more suitable norms; requesting and examining sentences and the acts of cases in order to safeguard correct jurisprudence[11]; arranging meetings with Bishop Moderators, whether all together at the time of ad limina visits or individually, when this seems necessary or useful; promoting, for the sake of the faithful, cooperation among the tribunals dispersed throughout the world; offering the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia necessary or requested information on the existence, organization and actual state of tribunals.

The vigilance of the Apostolic Signatura is exercised according to the norms that govern it, according to the sound principle of subsidiarity, and most importantly according to the divine constitution of the Church, and is usually carried out through the Bishop Moderators. If it becomes necessary for the Apostolic Signatura to intervene – which is always done with the knowledge of the Bishop Moderators – this, for the most part, occurs when the intervention would extend to several tribunals, or if the Bishop Moderators themselves request it, or finally when, all things considered, such an intervention becomes necessary.

This action of vigilance, no matter its form, presupposes the willing collaboration of the Bishop Moderators and the ministers of the tribunal, for whose sake it is carried out.


Communion draws life from communication, and communication is at the service of communion: upon this remote foundation stands the rationale for the reports on the state and activity of tribunals. It is hoped that these reports may be of help both to Bishop Moderators and to the Apostolic Signatura in the faithful discharge of their respective duties.

Given in Rome, at the seat of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, 30 July 2016.

Dominique Card. Mamberti

+ Frans Daneels, o.praem.
Titular Archbishop of Bita

+ Giuseppe Sciacca
Titular Bishop of Fondi
Adjunct Secretary

Prot. n. 51712/16 VT

[1] Cf. can. 1445, § 3 CIC; John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, 28 June 1988, artt. 121 and 124, in AAS 80 (1988) 891, 892; Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Antiqua ordinatione, 21 June 2008, Lex propria Supremi Signaturae Apostolicae Tribunalis, artt. 32, 35 and Title V: De administrativa ratione procedendi, in AAS 100 (2008) 521, 522, 535-538.

[2] Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae universae, 15 August 1967, n. 105, in AAS 59 (1967) 921. With respect to the duty of vigilance previously entrusted to the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, see, Circular Letter In Plenariis, 1 July 1932, in AAS 24 (1932) 272-274; erection of the Office of Vigilance in the same Dicastery, 24 May 1939.

[3] Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, 15 August 2015, Preface, III, in AAS 107 (2015) 959-960; Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis et misericors Iesus, 15 August 2015, Preface, in AAS 107 (2015) 947.

[4] Cf. Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Circular Letter Visis actis, 24 July 1972; Instruction Dignitas connubii, 25 January 2005, art. 38, § 4; Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops “Apostolorum Successores”, 22 February 2004, nn. 68 and 180.

[5] See, for example, John Paul II, Allocution to the Roman Rota, 29 January 2005, n. 4, in AAS 97 (2005) 165.

[6] Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, 15 August 2015, Preface, in AAS 107 (2015) 959; see also Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis et misericors Iesus, 15 August 2015, Preface: “the bishop himself ... who, due to his duty as pastor, has the greatest care for catholic unity with Peter in faith and discipline” (AAS 107 [2015] 948).

[7] Supremum Signaturae Apostolicae Tribunal, Circular Letter Inter cetera, 28 December 1970, n. 5, in AAS 63 (1971) 482.

[8] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Session of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, 4 February 2011, in AAS 103 (2011) 116: “Among other things, as the Lex propria points out, this entails maintaining an up-to-date body of information on the state and activity of the local tribunals by means of the annual report which each tribunal is bound to send to the Apostolic Signatura. It also involves the organization and elaboration of the data that comes from these reports; the identification of strategies for an appropriate use of human and institutional resources in the local tribunals, as well as the constant practice of communicating with the Bishop-Moderators of the diocesan and interdiocesan tribunals, who have direct responsibility, institutionally, for the administration of justice. This is a coordinated and patient task which aims above all to provide for the faithful the correct, rapid and efficient administration of justice”.

[9] See cann. 1649 CIC and 1334-1336 CCEO.

[10] See Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, 15 August 2015, can. 1676 and art. 19 of the Ratio procedendi, in AAS 107 (2015) 963-963, 970; Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Mitis et misericors Iesus, 15 August 2015, can. 1362 and art. 19 of the Ratio procedendi, in AAS 107 (2015) 950, 957.

[11] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Session of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, 4 February 2011, in AAS 103 (2011) 117: “However, vigilance over the correct administration of justice would be inadequate if it did not also entail the function of safeguarding correct jurisprudence (cf. Lex propria, art. 111, § 1). The means for knowing and for intervening, which the Lex propria and its own institutional position provide to this Apostolic Signatura, permit it to act in a manner that, in synergy with the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (cf. Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 126), proves providential for the Church. The exhortations and prescriptions which this Apostolic Signatura includes in its responses to the annual reports of the local tribunals not infrequently recommend to the respective Bishop-Moderators knowledge of and adherence to not only the directives proposed in the Pope’s annual Addresses to the Roman Rota, but also common Rotal jurisprudence regarding specific aspects that are crucial to the individual tribunals”.