'A welcome necessity': Canon law society praises revisions to Church penal sanctions

Canon law presser Press Conference about amendments to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law on June 1, 2021 at the Holy See Press, Rome./ Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Canon Law Society of America on Tuesday expressed gratitude for the Vatican’s new revisions to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, saying that the changes were needed.

“This reinvigoration of canon law is a welcome necessity to our member canonists’ work on behalf of the Church and will be, as the Holy Father says, an instrument for the good of souls,” said a statement from Rev. Msgr. C. Michael Padazinski, JCD, president of the Canon Law Society of America.

In particular, Padazinski said the recategorization of the crime of sexual abuse of a minor to an offense against the dignity of a human person is a “remarkable development.” Previously, the sexual abuse of a minor was listed as a delict against celibacy. 

The change “shows a shift from a mindset of concern focused primarily on an accused cleric to a concern for the individual who has been harmed,” said Padazinski. 

He added that the date the revisions will take effect - Dec. 8, 2021, the feast of the Immaculate Conception - is also significant. 

The date “reaffirms that life itself and the protection of human dignity begin at the instant a child is conceived in the mother’s womb,” Padazinski said.

The Canon Law Society of America is an organization of canon lawyers, students, and those working in canonical matters with “a desire to promote the use of every method of serving God’s people that comes under the concept of law.” It claims more than 1,200 members from 35 countries.

The revised Book VI was announced on Monday, May 31, through Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution Pascite gregem Dei (“Tend the Flock of God”). The revisions were first commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI to improve the efficacy of the code’s penal sanctions.

Pope Francis 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 canonical crimes in the area of economic and financial matters. The canons concerning the crime of sexual abuse of minors and crimes of child pornography were moved from the section on “crimes against special obligations” to that of “crimes against life, dignity, and freedom of the person.” 

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