The Roman Rota Moves Towards a “Diakonia” of Mercy

Source: FSSPX News

The interior court of the Palace of the Chancellery in the Vatican, location of the Roman Rota Tribunal

In a month, several nominations have affected one of the highest judicial bodies in the Church: the tribunal of the Roman Rota. 

Two of the ordinary tribunals closely connected to the Holy See are the Apostolic Signatura and the Roman Rota. The term “rota” is of rather obscure origin. Some say it was the name for the circular room in which court sessions were held, the floor of which was entirely paved with porphyry wheels; some believe that the name came from the round table at which the judges sat; others think the name came from the board in the shape of a wheel on which the names of the judges were written; and the last theory is that the word “rota” was the name of the wooden stick on which the documents from the different proceedings were rolled up.

In any case, the Rota is the appeals court for sentences handed down by diocesan or provincial authorities. It deals with contentious matters, most matrimonial, or criminalcases, though never with the administrative affairs that are reserved for the Apostolic Signatura. The Rota also examines the civil cases of Vatican City. The Holy Father has undertaken to reform this institution as part of a vast reassessment of the Holy See’s judiciary system by the Council of Cardinal Advisors.

Two series of nominations have occurred in recent months.


On June 19, 2017, the pope nominated one of his close collaborators, Daniele Cancilla, as head of the Chancery, the administration board of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. Vaticanist Sandro Magister points out that this is the first layman to be promoted to such an important position. Daniele Cancilla formerly worked with the Italian Episcopal Conference for the Forum of Family Associations; it was in this position that his friendship began with the future pope, then archbishop of Buenos Aires.

These nominations – at least according to Vatican Radio’s commentary – are part of a vast reassessment of the judicial system that has been developed during the last four meetings of the “C9”, the Council of nine Cardinal Advisors in charge of reforming the Church. The Sovereign Pontiff and his close collaborators have several times mentioned the evolution of the tribunals of the Holy See towards a “diakonia of justice” whose purpose would be to oversee the Holy See’s three tribunals: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota.

More broadly speaking, Paloma García Ovejero, vice-director of the Holy See Press Office, explained last February that the vocation of this “diakonia” is to be a part of a “ministry of mercy”.

What is the vocation of such a ministry?


To concretely perfect the way the Roman judicial system works in order to keep it ever faithful to its vocation of impartiality, objectivity and efficacy? Or to lower the level of demand in the different cases the Church’s highest courts examine?

Since fear has no vocation to be a basis for reasoning, we will have to use facts and the Tradition of the Church to judge the decisions that will be handed down by the future “Ministry of Mercy”.