.- On Thursday, the Holy See published new norms for the treatment of crimes considered to be "most serious" within the Church. In a press briefing, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained the updates, including an extension of the statute of limitations for cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and the official addition of other "delicta graviora" to the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The release of the updates took place in an unannounced meeting with the press in the Holy See's Press Office, which was hosted by Fr. Lombardi and Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the promotor of justice within the CDF. The modifications are included in 31 articles divided into two parts: Substantive Norms and Procedural Norms.
Fr. Lombardi released a statement meant to facilitate the reading of the norms for the "non-specialist public," in which he outlined the most important elements of the modifications to the "most serious sins" or "graviora delicta." They were originally promulgated by John Paul II in the motu proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" in 2001.
According to the Vatican spokesman, the updates to this document were meant to "organically integrate" the "new 'faculties'" given to the CDF by the Pope for the last nine years, "so as to streamline and simplify the procedures and make them more effective and to take account of new problems."
Although the norms touch on a variety of sins considered to be "most serious,” Fr. Lombardi's explanation of the modifications concentrated mostly on Church policy regarding the sexual abuse of minors.
In that regard, he first pointed out that updates incorporate measures to "accelerate procedures," particularly wording that gives the CDF the possibility of reaching a decision in cases without a full judicial process. Further modifications also establish that particularly serious cases are to be sent straight to the Pope, who will decide whether or not to dismiss the offender from the priesthood.
Fr. Lombardi noted there is another simplifying norm which establishes that a doctorate degree in canon law is no longer required for a person, including members of the lay community, to take part in the judicial process as a member of the tribunal, a lawyer or a prosecutor.
He went on to explain that the statute of limitations for pursuing a case of sexual abuse against an alleged abuser was increased from 10 to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday, with the possibility of further extension on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, the mentally disabled will be considered on par with minors in the consideration of cases of sexual abuse, and involvement with pedophile pornography is now counted among the most serious sins of the Church.
In the explanatory note, Fr. Lombardi stressed that the question of collaboration with civil authorities "remains untouched" in the documents published on Thursday. "It must be borne in mind," he said, "that the Norms being published today are part of the penal code of canon law, which is complete in itself and entirely distinct from the law of States."
The matter of collaboration with civil authorities, he explained, was taken up in the guidelines released by the Holy See last April. In that document, the CDF suggested that local Church authorities "comply with the requirements of law in the various countries, and ... do so in good time, not during or subsequent to the canonical trial."
Fr. Lombardi went on to say that "Today's publication of the Norms makes a great contribution to the clarity and certainty of law in this field; a field in which the Church is today strongly committed to proceeding with rigor and transparency so as to respond fully to the just expectations of moral coherence and evangelical sanctity nourished by the faithful and by public opinion, and which the Holy Father has constantly reiterated."
Turning to further modifications to the norms, the spokesman outlined three in particular, noting that they are already in force.
"These include crimes against the faith (heresy, apostasy and schism) for which competency normally falls to ordinaries, although the Congregation becomes competent in the case of an appeal; the malicious recording and disclosure of sacramental Confession about which a decree of condemnation was published in 1988; and the attempted ordination of women, about which a decree was published in 2007."
They should not be considered as "novelties," Fr. Lombardi observed, rather they are norms that were already in practice that have been "inserted" into the wording of canon law.