Pope Paul told judges of the Sacred Roman Rota last week that they must defend the indissolubility of valid marriages and similar basic marriage laws which he said were "beyond dispute."
He spoke at length in an audience on Thursday inaugurating a new judicial year for the Rota. the Church Court of Appeals, which handles marriage cases from all over the world.
Describing the Rota as "irreproachable," the Pope also defended local diocesan marriage tribunals against "certain malicious insinuations and unjust accusations" made against them.
Before the Pope spoke, the Vice Dean of the Rota, Mgr Charles Lefebvre, said in an address that marriage court officials felt "a slight bitterness" over accusations that tribunals favoured the rich or that they were "thirsty for power" and tried to compete with civil courts.
The Pope told the judges that their first task must be a defence of values which "for biblical, theological and rational reasons beyond dispute bear the character of inviolable authority.
"These are values which we must recognise as decreed by divine law and therefore as such are holy declarations of the ecclesial Magisterium which, it can be said, are always likewise professed by right human conscience."
The Pope then suggested that the "most frequent and serious" task of tribunals was defence of the "indissolubility of a true and perfect marriage, that is one which is ratified and consummated."
He also called the judges' attention to the need for a "clear and inflexible defence of the institution of marriage, and by consequence of the institution of the family — the fundamental basis for a moral, healthy and civilised society." The Pope likened the defence of marriage values to the defence of human values against "liberalisation of abortion laws, other threats against man's fundamental rights, and the rising threats to peace."
Referring to criticisms of Rota procedures, the Pope praised the Rota for its "traditional integrity . . . and austere and objective sense of Christian justice."
Referring to the experimental streamlining of tribunal procedures begun in 1971, the Pope said that national conferences of bishops and tribunals themselves seem "unanimously satisfied" with the experimental changes.
He added that the current reform of the Church's Canon Law "will take care to remove obscurities which have cropped up here and there in the interpretation of the maim proprio Causas Matrimoniales" — the document enacting the experimental changes