Vatican City, Jun 1, 2021 / 05:00 am
The Vatican published Tuesday major revisions to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which covers penal law in the Church, including sanctions related to clerical sexual abuse.
The revisions, which have been more than a decade in the making, were first commissioned by Benedict XVI with the aim of making the code’s penal sanctions more effective and applied evenly across the Church.
Pope Francis introduced the changes with the apostolic constitution Pascite gregem Dei (“Tend the Flock of God”). He wrote that those who have committed a crime “need both mercy and correction on the part of the Church.”
The pope said that the revisions have improved “fundamental aspects of criminal law, such as the right of defense, the statute of limitations for criminal action, [and] a more precise determination of penalties.”
The reforms also introduced new crimes in the area of economic and financial matters to canon law and moved the canons concerning the crime of sexual abuse of minors and crimes of child pornography from the section on “crimes against special obligations” to that of “crimes against life, dignity, and freedom of the person,” as CNA reported last month.
Under the revised laws, lay people, including founders of lay religious movements and parish employees, can also be sanctioned for sexual abuse.
The Vatican initiated the reform to canon law because of concerns that some parts of the Church were failing to apply penal sanctions amid the burgeoning abuse crisis.
“In the past, much damage has been caused by the Church's failure to perceive the intimate relationship between the exercise of charity and recourse -- when circumstances and justice require it -- to the discipline of punishment,” Pope Francis wrote in Pascite gregem Dei.