STRONGER PENAL LAW AFTER CHURCH ABUSE SCANDAL
A Press Conference in the Holy See Press Office highlights the changes made to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law.
Changes made to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law were discussed on Tuesday morning at a press conference in the Holy See Press Office.
Speakers included Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative texts, and Archbishop Filippo Iannone, President of the same council.
Goal of the changes
Archbishop Iannone noted that, in recent years, "the relationship of interpenetration between justice and mercy has at times been misinterpreted" and this has "fed a climate of laxity" in the application of criminal law. However, recent scandals and irregular situations have led to the need to reinvigorate canonical penal law.
The reform, presented on Tuesday and considered necessary and long overdue, "aims to make universal penal norms ever more suitable for the protection of the common good and of the individual faithful, more congruent with the demands of justice and more effective and adequate in today's ecclesial context, which is evidently different from that of the 1970s, the time when the canons of Book VI, now abrogated, were drawn up. The reformed norms are intended to respond precisely to this need, offering Ordinaries and Judges an agile and useful tool, simpler and clearer norms, to encourage recourse to criminal law when this is necessary so that, respecting the demands of justice, faith and charity may grow in the people of God."
Years following the promulgation
Bishop Arrieta also highlighted his understading of the reasons for the reform, saying that the discipline contained in Book VI did not meet the expectations it had raised in the years immediately following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Unlike other texts of the Code that were redefined according to the experience of the norms given ad experimentum in the post-conciliar period, the important modifications contained in Book VI did not first have the opportunity to confront the reality of the Church, and were directly promulgated in 1983.
"In these circumstances, the Holy See found itself in the need to make up with its own authority for the shortcomings of the ordinary system of punishment that had been envisaged, exceptionally reserving for itself - as early as 1988, although effectively only from 2001 - the leadership of the penal discipline in cases of greater gravity," he explained.
The work process
Bishop Arrieta then explained that this general context in September 2009 led Pope Benedict XVI, who had concrete experience of the limits of penal discipline due to his many years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "to formally instruct the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts to begin the revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law."
A study group was set up in the Dicastery with canonists experts in criminal law, initiating the work meetings that followed for twelve years.
The work of revising Book VI developed in the context of a very broad collegial collaboration and a continuous exchange of suggestions and observations. "More than 150 full-bodied opinions arrived from the consultation, which, after being systematized, served as the basis for the group's subsequent work, culminating in a new amended Schema in mid-2016."
Then, following a period of reflecion and final consultations, the refinement of the text was approved by the Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery on 20 January 2020. "This document, with some further adjustments, mainly in economic matters, was finally fixed by the Pontifical Council and presented to the attention of the Holy Father who signed the Apostolic Constitution on the Solemnity of Pentecost, establishing its promulgation."
As a result of the work, of the 89 canons that make up this Book VI, 63 have been modified (71%), 9 others have been moved (10%), while only 17 remain unchanged (19%).
Three main guiding criteria
The changes introduced in the new Book VI basically respond to three guiding criteria, explained Bishop Arrieta.
In the first place, the text now contains "an adequate definiteness of the penal norms which was not there before, in order to give a precise and sure indication to those who must apply them."
The second criterion which has presided over the reform is "the protection of the community and the attention paid to repairing the scandal and compensating for the damage." Bishop Arrieta explained that the new text seeks to make the instrument of penal sanctioning part of the ordinary form of pastoral governance of communities, "avoiding the elusive and dissuasive formulas that previously existed."
The third objective which has been sought, continued Bishop Arrieta, is that of "providing the Pastor with the necessary means to be able to prevent offences, and to be able to intervene in time to correct situations which could become more serious, without, however, renouncing the necessary precautions for the protection of the presumed offender, as a guarantee of what is now stated in canon 1321 §1: 'everyone is considered innocent until the contrary is proven'."
Newly-included criminal offences
Concluding his address, Bishop Arrieta went on to note that "the criminal cases grouped in the second part of Book VI have been reorganised", shifting canons and reorienting the sense of the headings of the individual titles for the purpose of a better organization.
Amongst these, Bishop Arrieta notes that "the crime of child abuse is now framed not within the crimes against the special obligations of clerics, but as a crime committed against the dignity of the person."
The new Canon 1398 therefore includes in this regard actions carried out not only by clerics, but also crimes of this kind committed by non-clerical religious and by lay persons who occupy certain roles in the Church, as well as any such behavior with adult persons, but committed with violence or abuse of authority.
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