For Eastern Catholics, Pope makes changes to Latin Church's law

Pope Francis 2 at the Wednesday General Audience in St Peters Square on May 20 2015 Credit Daniel Iba n ez CNA 5 20 15 Pope Francis at the Wednesday General Audience in St Peter's Square on May 20, 2015. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis has issued new changes to canon law that modify Latin Church code with an eye towards clarifying ministry to Eastern Catholics.

The Pope cited concern for harmony between the different codes. The name of the Pope's apostolic letter, "De Concordia inter Codices," in fact means "Concerning harmony between laws." It is dated May 31 and was released Sept. 15.

The changes concern topics like baptism, marriage, and change of ecclesiastical rite.

The Pope said the changes were motivated by the presence of many Eastern Catholics in predominantly Latin Catholic regions. This creates many pastoral and juridical questions, he said, according to Vatican News.

Eastern Catholics are obliged to observe their rite wherever they are. In these regions, there must be a correct balance between the protection of the rights of the Eastern Catholic minority and the historical canonical tradition of the Latin Catholic majority.

There are over twenty Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said the changes were motivated by a desire to "facilitate pastoral attention to the faithful," especially Eastern Catholic diaspora living in areas with a Latin Catholic majority.

The bishop explained the changes in a Sept. 15 statement.

The changes affected eleven canons of the Latin Church legal code. No changes affected Eastern Catholic canon law.

The changes reaffirm that a baptized child belongs to the Church of the Catholic parent. They oblige parish records to indicate the Church to which the child belongs.

The changes address matters where Catholics canonically transfer to another Church within the Catholic Church. When there is no specific dispensation, such a person must now follow a formal act before competent authority, with the change recorded in the baptismal registers.

In the marriage of two Eastern Catholics, a priest's blessing is required for validity. In the Latin Church, since 1967, deacons are also qualified witnesses to a marriage.

However, in cases of marriage between a Latin Catholic and an Eastern Catholic, the new code clarifies that only a priest may officiate.

Other changes involve the legitimate participation of Latin Catholic clergy in the celebration of the sacraments of Orthodox Christians. The Latin code now adopts the provisions of Eastern Catholic codes.

The change also imports from Eastern Catholic canon law the provision that the local hierarch may allow a Latin Catholic priest to bless the marriage of two Orthodox Christian faithful, under certain conditions.

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