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from issue no. 01/02 - 2006

Departments. The Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet answers our questions

Paul VI as reference point

«My vision of the Council was that of Pope Montini, a vision, to use the terminology adopted by Pope Benedict XVI, based on the hermeneutics of reform and certainly not on that of discontinuity». Agostino Vallini, one of the fifteen new cardinals named by the Pope, tells of his experience as priest and bishop

Interview whith Agostino Vallini by Gianni Cardinale

Agostino Vallini, Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet

Agostino Vallini, Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet

On 22 February Pope Benedict XVI announced the names of the fifteen churchmen who on 24 March will be created cardinals. Among them there is Agostino Vallini, 66 next 17 April, Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet. His nomination will fill a particular gap in the Sacred College. Born in fact in Poli, in the province of Rome, with Vallini there will once again be a cardinal among the 120 cardinal electors of the Holy Roman Church who is, if not native of the city of Rome, at least from its province. Currently in fact the only two from Lazio, the Roman, and Rome football team supporter, Fiorenzo Angelini and Angelo Felici from Segni, have already passed the age limit of eighty.

Your Excellency, with your nomination there is once again a churchman from the province of Rome among the cardinal electors of the Sacred College…
AGOSTINO VALLINI: To tell the truth I still hadn’t realized this. The thing can only please me and I thank the Holy Father for the particular benevolence and trust that he has granted me. But, in fact, my origins are a bit mixed.
That is?
VALLINI: I’m the son of a Carabiniere sergeant from the province of Pisa, near Volterra, who married my mother who was originally from Corchiano, in the province of Viterbo. I was born while my father was in command of the police station in Poli, a small town in the province of Rome, which from the ecclesiastical point of view lies in the suburbicarian diocese of Tivoli. Then during the war my father was taken prisoner and deported to Germany. So my mother moved back to her birthplace. At the end of the war the family was finally reunited and my father was transferred first to Caserta, then in 1951 put in command of the police station in the Barra district of Naples, where I was legally resident from adolescence till I was grown up, though for long periods I was elsewhere.
A district sadly known to the newspapers…
VALLINI: A district on the outskirts of the big city, but, I’d like to stress, full of honest and hard-working people. It’s unfair to think of Barra and other working-class districts of Naples as districts marked by criminality. That’s not how it is. Criminal phenomena like the Camorra are absolutely marginal; unfortunately they make news and move into the areas that are less well looked after socially. I lived in Barra for many years, I know the outskirts of Naples well, at all social levels, and I can assure you that the vast majority of the inhabitants are fine, great-hearted people, Christians in a felt way, who are entitled to see their rights as citizens better safeguarded, as happens in other regions of Italy.
Your vocation flowered in Naples, you attended the seminary and in 1964 were ordained priest…
VALLINI: Really my vocation to the priesthood was born in Corchiano, following the example of my parish priest, Father Domenicao Anselmi, who took great care of me. In Naples my decision to enter the seminary ripened, and it was there where I went through all the training stages up to the priesthood. After my ordination as presbyter I wanted to further my studies of ecclesiology, but the archbishop of the time, Cardinal Alfonso Castaldo, decided to send me to study Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University, with a view to teaching at the Theology Faculty of Naples.
That was in the middle of the Council period and afterwards…
VALLINI: Ah yes; I remember the great enthusiasm with which we followed the workings of Vatican II and we welcomed and studied its documents. The Council was a great experience of faith and of love towards the Church and mankind. I graduated «in utroque iure» in 1969 and returned to Naples. But Monsignor Pietro Pavan, then rector of the Lateran and a future cardinal, who had been my teacher – with whom I kept up a relationship of esteem and friendship up to the end of his life – invited me to teach at the University of the Pope. Well, in that period, which was not always untroubled even at the ecclesiastical level, my reference point was constantly Pope Paul VI and his magisterium. My vision of the Council was that of Paul VI, a vision, to use the terminology adopted by Pope Benedict XVI in his speech to the Roman Curia on 22 December last, based on the «hermeneutics of reform» and certainly not on those «of discontinuity and rupture».
The façade of the Palace of the Chancellery, headquarters of the Supreme Court of  the Apostolic Signet

The façade of the Palace of the Chancellery, headquarters of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet

During your years of teaching in Rome did you abandon Naples?
VALLINI: No, I lived in Rome only during the six-monthly periods of teaching and then I would come back for purposes of study. For the rest of the year I lived in my city of adoption, where I taught Canon Law at the Theology Faculty of southern Italy and did pastoral work, collaborating in a parish, even if formally I’ve never been a parish priest. I also looked after a group belonging to the Italian Federation of University Students, and Cardinal Corrado Ursi appointed me diocesan assistant to the USMI (Union of Major Superiors of Italy): in Naples there were then about three thousand nuns… However in 1978 I had to give up teaching in Rome because my archbishop called me to direct the diocesan theological seminary of Capodimonte. I continued, however, to teach law at the Theology Faculty.
Of which you became dean in 1987.
VALLINI: Yes, I was picked out by the teaching staff and the new archbishop Michele Giordano, who in 1988 was made cardinal, confirmed me in the post. For that reason I gave up the rectorship of the seminary. Two such arduous jobs couldn’t be done together.
That of dean was a brief experience.
VALLINI: Yes, because in 1989 the Pope named me auxiliary bishop and as such I had to deal with the organization of the pastoral visit of John Paul II to Naples, that lasted all of three days, from the 9th to 11th of November 1990, with 14 appointments. It was a great experience, because in agreement with the cardinal we saw to it that the visit was prepared for by intense spiritual and pastoral activity throughout the diocesan community. I remember in particular that the Pope agreed to visit the new district of Scampìa also. There was a marvellous reception from the faithful and all the inhabitants.
Apart from the Pope’s visit, what have you kept of your experience as auxiliary in Naples?
VALLINI: A great deal. I learned to be a bishop. And then my love of the people of Naples has grown. A people rich in faith, resourceful and with wholesome traditions, but too often brought down in so many of the aspects pertaining to social living: I’m thinking of the serious problems of unemployment, above all among young people, of housing, of security. A people who deserve, undoubtedly, very much more than they have.
In November 1999 came the nomination as bishop of the diocese of Albano, the most densely inhabited of the suburbicarian dioceses …
VALLINI: It’s a diocese that numbers more than five hundred thousand inhabitants and it’s also vast in area, with three fairly different zones. There is the zone of the Castelli Romani, with Albano, Castel Gandolfo, Ariccia, Genzano, Nemi, Lanuvio, Marino, Ciampino, then the middle industrial zone with Pomezia and Aprilia – the most densely inhabited town – and finally the coastal zone, from Torvaianica down to Anzio and Nettuno. It’s a growing diocese with all the problems relating to the stability of the social fabric and, from the religious point of view, with pastoral problems, among them the building of new churches…
How did you find the new situation?
VALLINI: It was a very exciting experience, not least because I’d been left a rich legacy in succeeding a bishop of such great worth as Monsignor Dante Bernini, who led the diocese of Albano for many years. It was he who set up the diocesan synod, of which I was able to gather the fruits, putting through some important pastoral orientations, such as that of the operational primacy to be given to evangelization. A choice that the Pope confirmed in the famous audience he granted to the diocese in the Holy Year, on the evening of 27 August 2000, in Castel Gandolfo, at the exceptional time of 9pm. I think it was the only diocese given a nocturnal audience. But that was due obviously to the particular benevolence the Holy Father felt towards the diocese of Albano, whose territory, as I’ve said, covers Castel Gandolfo.
In May 2004 the Pope called you to the Roman Curia to head the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signet.
VALLINI: I left Albano thanking God for the experience and with an awareness of the great honor done me in being called to a post of close collaboration with the ministry of the Roman Pontiff. It has required me to take up my studies of Canon Law full time.
Did you have to start all over again?
VALLINI: No. I’ve always tried to keep up to date in terms of scholarship, reading as much as possible of the specialized reviews. Then both as auxiliary of Naples and as bishop of Albano I was entrusted with tasks dealing with legal questions by the Italian Bishops’ Conference. In recent years I was appointed by the Permanent Council as head of the Ecclesiastical Bodies and Property Committee.
A final question. Your department in the Roman Curia is perhaps the least known. What does it deal with?
VALLINI: The Apostolic Signet, which is somewhat analogous to the Court of Appeal and with the Council of State in national governments, deals with very delicate questions. It exercises a triple jurisdiction: judicial, plaintive-administrative and disciplinarian-administrative. The tasks of Supreme Court are fairly narrow: it judges the plaints for nullity and the appeals for “restitutio in integrum” against the decisions of the Sacra Rota, appeals in the cases on the status of persons, that the Roman Rota has refused to admit for fresh examination and other appeals. Secondly, through the so-called “sectio altera”, introduced by Paul VI «for simpler safeguarding of the rights of the faithful», it judges appeals against the individual administrative decisions given out or approved by a department of the Roman Curia, every time there is question whether or not the contested decision has infringed the law. It also judges disputes passed on by the Pope or by the departments and conflicts of jurisdiction among the different departments of the Curia. Lastly it watches over the proper administration of justice in all the courts of the Church.
So it is, then, complicated and delicate work.
VALLINI: Undoubtedly. A full-time job, to be performed with great care and sense of responsibility.

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