According to a canon law expert, the two motu proprios recently promulgated by Pope Francis could signal a slowdown in the process of defining and publishing the long-awaited blueprint for the reform of the Roman Curia.

Geraldina Boni, a canon law professor at the University of Bologna and a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts since 2011, told CNA that the two legislative changes also might not necessarily promote the “healthy decentralization” sought by Pope Francis.

Boni, the author of a widely discussed book on Pope Francis and canon law, said that she saw terminological shortcomings in the new laws, which could lead to contrasting interpretations.

The two motu proprios, published on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15 respectively, changed the internal structure of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and transferred some competencies previously reserved to the Holy See to bishops.

The second motu proprio, Assegnare alcune competenze (“Assigning some competencies”), said that the Holy See would now “confirm,” and no longer “approve,” bishops’ decisions on issues such as the dissemination of catechisms or programs of priestly formation.

But according to Boni, we must “dampen the enthusiasm” about a possible “healthy decentralization” favored by these new rules.

She recalled that the Latin term recognitio (“recognition”) had already been replaced by the word confirmatio (“confirmation”) in the 2017 motu proprio Magnum principium on the translation of liturgical texts.

Canon law professor Geraldina Boni. Gruppo Italiano Docenti Diritto Canonico YouTube channel.
Canon law professor Geraldina Boni. Gruppo Italiano Docenti Diritto Canonico YouTube channel.

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But she said that in this case, “it had a more clearly perceptible meaning: it was the translations of the liturgical books into current languages, prepared by the bishops for their regions, which the Roman Congregation, after the modification of the code, must merely ‘confirm’ (canon 838 § 2), ratifying what was deliberated by the episcopates and assuming the fidelity and harmonization of the versions to the original liturgical text on trust.”

The difference between recognition and confirmation, Boni explained, is that confirmation is “a much lighter check than the more meaningful and ‘invasive’ (but guaranteed against deviations and errors) recognitio, whose technical meaning is precise.”

But she said that the difference between approval and confirmation “is not too clear and tends to overlap easily.”

“As several canonists explain, the difference could be identified in the fact that the confirmatio should not enter into the examination of the merit and content of the act (the use of the conditional is not accidental), but to evaluate only the conditions and the regularity of the resolution, excluding an alternative or modifying role in the Congregation’s intervention,” Boni said.

Boni added that “in the process of issuing the legal act, confirmation is therefore the last step: but it still assumes the revision and, in some way, the approval of the text as a final seal of legitimacy.”

In practice, she said, everything will be decided “by the application practice of the Congregations.”

Boni was critical of those who have spoken of “substantial change,” asking them “to explain the sources from which they draw such a decisive conclusion.”

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According to Boni, it would have been “completely different if all control intervention by the Apostolic See had been eliminated: and with this I certainly do not want to argue that this would have been desirable, quite the opposite.”

She said: “Beyond the specific case, in order to avoid trivialization or misunderstanding of important concepts in the Church, the indispensable role of the Holy See in guaranteeing unity of faith and discipline must not be misrepresented: from that point of view, ecclesiological certainly does not imply the imposition of a centralizing and autocratic uniformity.”

Boni also noted “the anomaly in which the Italian version of the motu proprio Assegnare alcune competenze was published before the Latin one. Nevertheless, according to these modalities, the Italian version is authentic, and the Latin one is translated. This demonstrates total legal unawareness.”

The original version of the Code of Canon Law, both for the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches, is in Latin (the so-called editio typica), and therefore all amendments must be in Latin. “It’s a question of legal certainty,” Boni said.

According to the professor, there is also a further problem: the changes risk redefining “the competencies of the relevant departments of the Roman Curia.”

If these changes were not already contemplated or implemented in the current draft of the new Vatican constitution, provisionally titled Praedicate evangelium, then further changes will be made.

“The road to the launch and entry into force of the new constitution is thus getting longer,” concluded Boni.