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Rota Romana: Court of the Vatican

The Vatican has many departments and organizations under it and is working on solutions regarding problems around the world. Soon, on November 27th, the Vatican will visit Myanmar to attempt to resolve ethnic conflicts. The fact that the Vatican has its own courts and tries to solve related problems lets people compare the Vatican with other religions like Buddhism or Islam. In Korea, however, the concept of the Vatican court is still relatively new and therefore people are less interested in it. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the Vatican’s Supreme Court, Rota Romana, to raise interest in it, scrutinizes the current situation and limitations of Rota Romana, and lets Kingos read about a lawyer working in Rota Romana.

What Is Rota Romana?

Rota Romana is a permanent court in Rome, which popes set up to receive appeals. It was founded in the 13th century, and it symbolizes the tension and conflicts between religion and law that have persisted in human history. The Latin ‘Rota’ means the cart wheel, which is derived from the fact that the judges sat on the round table like wagon wheels and discussed verdicts. It exerts jurisdiction over civil and criminal suits involving the Catholic Church globally, and jurisdiction over administrative appeals. In addition, the judgments are made based on Roman law, considering changes of laws and judicial presidents from the Supreme Court of each country and Rota Romana.

Legal Professions in Rota Romana/ concordatwatch.eu

People may think of Rota Romana simply as a court of the church, but it is not. According to Concordat, which is the treaty between men in political power and religious power, the judgment of the church and the national court are regarded as the same in many Catholic countries in Europe and South America. Therefore, the lawsuits in Rota Romana weigh the same as the lawsuits in each country’s Supreme Court, and the cases that are mainly judged are those that have not been decided by the lower court’s decisions and appeals. This is why Rota Romana is not just a simple church tribunal.

Korea and Rota Romana

Present Status

Inside of Rota Romana Judicial Institute/ studiorotalegullo.com

Currently, there are about 300 Rota Romana lawyers, but there are only two non-European lawyers among them. The most important reason for this is the language barrier. In order to work as a Rota Romana lawyer, a person should complete a three-year course in Studio Rotale and pass the final exam. The problem is that everything should be carried out in Latin, since Latin is the official language of the church. Even if lawsuits come in various languages, legal professions in Rota Romana must translate all of them into Latin for trial. Moreover, Latin has a complex grammar structure. For instance, the active forms of one verb exceed 60 kinds, and the passive voice forms are even more complex. Due to these intricacies, it is difficult to learn Latin if a person is not European, since they have had a higher possibility of experiencing Latin since childhood. That is why Rota Romana lawyers are currently mostly European. Meanwhile, many people often say that other languages like English should be used as official church languages, but those suggestions are rejected all the time. This is because if Latin is not used in Rota Romana, it is highly likely that the language of the church will disappear into history.

Resulting Limitations

People working in Rota Romana are highly trained, and are fluent in multiple languages. The multiple languages that they use, however, are European. Therefore, if they take on cases from Asia, there is a high possibility that unfortunate results can happen because lawyers are not fluent in Asian languages and do not fully understand cultural differences in Asia. A typical example is the ancestor rite problem that occurred when Catholicism first spread to Korea. At first, the Vatican decided not to conduct ancestor rites, because it interpreted them as having pagan meanings of serving other gods. As a result, many Catholics were persecuted and became martyrs while following those Catholic doctrines. The change of the Vatican’s instructions to allow ancestor rites was made after the 20th century. Through tolerant instruction, Pope Pius XII clarified that ancestor rites have no religious meaning. That is because unlike the past, the Vatican interpreted memorial services as Asian customs of honoring ancestors rather than superstition or idolatry. If this interpretation had been made earlier, there might have been no such sacrifices in Korea. In order not to repeat these historical errors, Rota Romana needs to be made up of people from various regions so that it can fully understand multicultural values and beliefs.

Interview with Rota Romana Lawyer

Rota Romana Lawyer Han Dong-ill

Q1. Please introduce yourself to Kingos.

Hello, my name is Han Dong-ill and I am the first Korean Rota Romana lawyer. I first encountered Rota Romana when I was studying in Rome. At first, I did not expect to be a lawyer because I am an Asian. After entering the judicial institute, however, I felt that I could become a lawyer. I began to study hard, and finally became a lawyer.

Q2. You have worked in both Rota Romana and an Italian law firm. Are there any differences between priest lawyers and non-priest lawyers?

I was involved in an Italian law firm originally. As a lawyer in the law firm, I was qualified to take on lawsuits involving Rota Romana. Now, however, I am a member of Rota Romana because priest lawyers moved to Rota Romana for the pope to manage himself. There are no differences work-wise between priest lawyers and non-priest lawyers. Priest lawyers are just qualified to become prosecutors or judges later in Rota Romana.

Q3. Usually, people think of typical lawyers as people who file lawsuits. Are lawyers in Rota Romana similar to those? If differences exist, what are they?

In the aspect of filing lawsuits, there are no differences between a Rota Romana lawyer and a typical lawyer. In Rota Romana, however, it is very important for lawyers to study the events caused by the conflict between the emperor and the church. It is also important that they should research on how to apply legal principles to events in history.

Q4. Most Koreans do not seem to know about Rota Romana lawyers. What do you think is the reason? What can we do to make people learn about the importance of this work?

It seems that the biggest reason is that people have no will to know about it. Korean society is a closed atmosphere. I don’t think there is a special solution. It is necessary for people in high positions of society to correctly learn about the importance of Rota Romana. Starting from them, many people will then recognize the importance of Rota Romana.

Q5. Any last words for Kingos?

Rota Romana lawyers act as stepping stones to connect the Church and the world with law. It is certainly not an easy job. I hope that students do not simply make the easiest choices in life. Just as I had chosen to become a Rota Romana lawyer, I wish for all Kingos to avoid choosing only easy paths because those paths cannot always lead to positive results. Rather, I hope they make decisions after enough consideration of what they can do.

Social structures and relationships are becoming more complicated over time. As a result, problems are not as easy to solve as they used to be. Rota Romana is a place where people can get clues to solve such complex problems. As time goes by, the importance of Rota Romana will increase. By reading this article, the SKT hopes Kingos will recognize the importance of it and get interested in it.

안광제  rhkdwp8066@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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