The Apostolic Constitution Pascite Gregem Dei published this Tuesday, June 1 brings modifications to book VI of the Code of Canon Law concerning penal sanctions in the Church. Significant changes in the current context.
“Be the shepherds of the flock of God; watch over him, not by constraint but willingly, according to God ” (1P 5, 2): it is with these words of the apostle Saint Peter that the Apostolic Constitution begins Feed the flock dated the solemnity of Pentecost, May 23, made public this Tuesday 1is June, and the content of which will enter into force on December 8. Francis thus intends to reform part of the Code of Canon Law promulgated 38 years ago by Saint John Paul II, Book VI on penal sanctions in the Church.
The fruit of a reform launched in 2007
“In order to adequately meet the needs of the Church around the world, explains François, it became evident that the penal discipline promulgated by Saint John Paul II on January 25, 1983 in the Code of Canon Law also needed to be revised, and that it should be amended so as to allow pastors to use it as a a more agile saving and corrective instrument, to be used quickly and with pastoral charity to avoid more serious evils and soothe the wounds caused by human weakness ”.
Pope Francis recalls that Benedict XVI launched this revision in 2007, committing “In a spirit of collegiality and cooperation” experts in canon law from all over the world, episcopal conferences, major superiors of religious institutes and dicasteries of the Roman Curia. An intense and complex work, transmitted to the current Sovereign Pontiff in February 2020.
Francis points out that the Church, over the centuries, has adopted rules of conduct “Who make the people of God united and whose bishops are responsible for keeping” and underlines that “Charity and mercy demand that a Father also commit to redressing what sometimes becomes twisted”.
Charity does not exclude punishment
It is a task “Which must be fulfilled as a concrete and inalienable demand for charity not only towards the Church, the Christian community and the possible victims, but also towards those who have committed a crime, who need the mercy and the correction of the ‘Church, specifies the Holy Father. In the past, a lack of awareness of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse – when circumstances and justice so require – to the discipline of punishment has caused much damage ”, he writes. All this made the correction more difficult, “Creating in many cases scandal and confusion among the faithful”. So, “The negligence of a pastor to have recourse to the penal system makes manifest the fact that he does not fulfill his function correctly and faithfully”, says François. The charity “Demands that the Pastors have recourse to the penal system as often as necessary, taking into account the three ends which make it necessary in the ecclesial community, namely the reestablishment of the demands of justice, the amendment of the offender and the redress of scandals “, recalls the Pope.
This new text “Introduces changes of various kinds in the law in force and sanctions some new criminal figures”, is it explained. The book of the Code of Canon Law is also improved “From a technical point of view, especially with regard to fundamental aspects of criminal law, such as the rights of the defense, the prescription of criminal proceedings, a more precise determination of sentences”. This goes through the definition of “Objective criteria to identify the most appropriate sentence to apply in the concrete case”, and by reducing the discretionary power of authority, so as to promote ecclesial unity in the application of sentences, “Especially for crimes that cause more damage and scandals in the community”.
Fight more effectively against abuse
“New sanctions have been provided for, such as fines, compensation for damage, deprivation of all or part of ecclesiastical remuneration, according to the rules established by the various episcopal conferences”, details Bishop Filippo Iannone, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. “With regard to the legislation on the abuse of minors, there is a novelty which testifies to the will to underline the gravity of these crimes and also the attention to be paid to the victims”, because these crimes have been moved from the chapter “Crimes against the special obligations of clerics” to that of “Crimes against life, dignity and human freedom”. “The crime of abuse of a minor committed not only by clerics, but also by members of institutes of consecrated life and by other faithful has been introduced”, also notes Bishop Iannone. With regard to heritage matters, “There are several novelties” who intend to put into practice the principles to which Pope Francis often returns, namely transparency and good management of the administration of goods.
“In recent years, as many people have underlined during the work of revising the normative apparatus, the interpenetration relationship between justice and mercy has sometimes been misinterpreted, which has fueled a climate of laxity. excessive in the application of criminal law, in the name of an unfounded opposition between pastoral care and law, and criminal law in particular ”, also specified Bishop Iannone during the press conference to present this new apostolic constitution, this Tuesday 1is June. “The presence within the communities of certain irregular situations, but above all the recent scandals, which have given rise to disconcerting and very serious episodes of pedophilia, have led to the need to reinvigorate canon criminal law, by integrating it into reforms. precise legislative “, he explained.
The Italian prelate said that “This reform, presented today as necessary and long awaited, aims to make universal penal norms ever more adapted to the protection of the common good and of each believer, more in conformity with the requirements of justice and more effective and adequate in the current ecclesial context, which is obviously different from that of the 1970s, when the canons of Book VI, now abrogated, were drawn up ”. So, “The reformed legislation intends to respond precisely to this need, by offering Ordinary and Judges (…) simpler and clearer standards, to promote recourse to criminal law when necessary so that, in compliance with the requirements of the justice, faith and charity can grow in the People of God ”.