Role of Law Award Response
Rev. Msgr. Roch Pagé
Thank you very much, Phil, for your kind presentation.
When our president called last January to inform me about the decision of the Board of Governors to honor me with the Role of Law Award this year, I was stunned and told him: “I am speechless.” Phil replied: “I am glad to be probably the first one to find you speechless.” I thanked him for the compliment.
I wish to sincerely thank the Board of Governors and the CLSA membership for this honor. When I read the characteristics the chosen person should demonstrate during his or her life and legal practice, I cannot but regret to have neglected the advice of my spiritual directors, inviting me to strongly work on the acquisition of an eventual humility. I am sure they are now as proud as I am, even the two who passed away; hopefully not by my fault.
I consider the present honor a great privilege, especially when I think of the group of previous recipients. It is the last of a long list of privileges I have been granted so far in my life as a canonist.
The first privilege was to study canon law in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. About five years before the beginning of my studies, Pope John XXIII announced the revision of the Code of Canon Law as a natural consequence of the Church being re-visited by the Council. This also meant that the law which I was to study would be a rather uncertain law with regard to its future application. I used to say that I studied canon law on loose sheets of paper rather than on a firmly bound Code – which made me realize that it is not bad for a canonist to feel sometimes insecure.
At the same time, the Council led me to rethink, among other things, my theology of the Church and of the sacraments, which inspired me throughout my teaching years. Moreover, after getting a sense of how the law – civil and canonical – is approached and applied in Rome, it was very good to “land” in Canada for my doctoral thesis and benefit from two different ecclesiastical cultures. It is probably around that time that, in a discussion about the interpretation of a law, I realized it is possible to pass between the paint and the wall.
After seven years as spiritual director of our diocesan seminary, I was permitted by my bishop to return to Saint Paul as a teacher. Instructed to go to Ottawa for only one year, I had to renew the request for a few more years, which prevented me from speaking in terms of career longevity. That is why I am used to saying that I spent thirty-five “one year” stints as a permanent teacher at St. Paul.
After four years in Ottawa, I realized that there was no future there for someone from Chicoutimi who had never spoken English. I decided then to grant myself another privilege and, in the image of Abraham, I left Canada for an unknown country to learn English... I went to Texas. (I do not understand why y’all are laughing.) I went to San Antonio on the advice of an Oblate who had been there for more than twenty years. I thought he was a friend of mine, but after I returned from Texas, he overheard a conversation in English between a student and me. This supposed “friend” who joined us said to the student: “You know what? Since he is back from Texas, Pagé speaks Spanish and he thinks he speaks English.”
A final privilege that I wish to share with you – and thank God for – is that after about five years of retirement from regular teaching at Saint Paul, I accepted the request of the Conference of Bishops to become Judicial Vicar of the Canadian Appeal Tribunal. After having taught procedural law for thirty-five years, it is something quite special to be in a position to apply it. Recently, I have accepted the invitation of the Dean of our Faculty to teach procedural law next semester. Let me tell you, I will certainly add some nuances to my usual commentaries on different norms.
After more than forty years of teaching and canonical practice, how could I not be moved, probably like most of you, by the subject matter of the present extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, especially by the question of divorced and remarried Catholics?
I know that it is a difficult issue. Therefore, I will not suggest any solution, but allow me to try to express my own questions or at least, the state of the question as I see it.
As we know from our experience, in whichever field we apply the law, more often than not canonists find themselves specializing in impasse. This is not restricted to those individuals who work in tribunals, even if the problems of married persons constitute their daily lot. Chancellors too, have a large part to play in the resolution of impasses caused by the application of law; just as professors and consultants do in matters of interpretation.
I think the question of divorced and remarried people is to be considered from the very beginning, that is to say: what do we seek to accomplish when we prepare Catholic Christians for marriage? Is it to render them able to live their marriage as the sacrament of the love which Christ unfailingly holds for His Church, or as the sacrament of the bond which permanently unites Christ to her?
If the theology of marriage clearly favors the first aspect, the couple’s problems begin when love no longer exists between them, and they conclude that they have no reason to continue living together. It is at that point that they need to come to terms with the reality: they have committed themselves to be the human setting in which not only the love of Christ for his Church is lived out, but also the bond which is the logical consequence of that love; and so, they remain permanently responsible for being a sign of the latter, the bond, without being a sign of the former, the love. It must be admitted that in the Church it is possible to be a sign of the bond without the existence of the love; but it is not possible to be a sign of the love of Christ in a marriage if one is not at the same time a sign of the bond which unites Christ to his Church. This is the avenue canon law has taken in determining that it is consent, rather than love, that makes marriage; even if the bonum conjugum has emerged of late as one of the ends of marriage.
Canon law has been blamed many times for the difficulties encountered by married people, including Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly or otherwise. Such reproaches cannot be extended to canonists themselves, unless it be that they try too hard to regulate, on a juridical level, situations whose resolution could at times be better sought on a theological or pastoral level. To what extent have we not been responsible in this way, for delays to offer real solutions to the problems of those who have experienced the breakdown of their marriage? I mean that we must not forget that marriage, once again, is not only the sacrament of bond but also the sacrament of love. And then, the problem and its solution might be of a theological nature, without forgetting that the juridical dimension would have to be taken into account at one stage or another since it is this dimension which is the basis of the contract.
Speaking of the theological dimension of marriage, we should not forget a theological solution. I am reminded of the solution used by a number of Orthodox Churches and already mentioned by Pope Francis. It should lead us to consider a question: did the Church stretch to its limit the power to forgive, a power which was handed over to her by Christ? We possess a good spirituality of forgiveness, but do we possess an equally good theology of forgiveness? Would it not be possible to grant pardon to those members of the faithful who made a mistake in marrying or in entering a sacramental marriage? Or to those guilty of a grave offense against their commitment to be a sign in the community of the love of Christ for His Church?
My fear is that the present Synod has created too high expectations. My hope is simply that the Synodal Fathers will face the true questions and accordingly examine the true, possible solutions.
Thank you very much for your kindness.