Francis, Pope of Mercy, reforms the Code of Canon Law, updating Book VI on the canonical penalties provided for a long series of sins and crimes. The excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See remains the most serious penalty, but there is a wide range of penalties to be used according to the gravity of the crimes: suspensions, prohibitions, fines, admonitions, censures up to the resignation from the clerical state for clerics. Temporary or perpetual penalties. The statute of limitations is short, only three years. In addition to the classic faults towards the doctrine and the sacraments particular severity is reserved for pedophilia and financial crimes the two scandals which in recent years have caused serious damage to the image of the Church. At a superficial glance it might seem contradictory that it is precisely the pope of mercy who extends recourse to canonical penalties. But the law recommends that “no censorship be established, especially excommunication, except with the utmost moderation and only against crimes of special gravity”. In reality, the two aspects make each other more credible and effective. Francis himself explains this at the opening of the Apostolic Constitution Feed the flock to clarify the provision that will come into force on 8 December. “Observance and respect for penal discipline – affirms the pope – is the task of the entire People of God, but the responsibility for its correct application corresponds specifically to the Pastors and Superiors of the individual communities. It is a task that belongs in an indissociable way to the pastoral munus [compito pastorale –ndr] which is entrusted to them, and must be exercised as a concrete and inalienable need for charity towards the Church, the Christian community and any victims, but also towards those who have committed a crime, who, together with mercy, also needs the correction of the Church “.
Mercy and justice are not two concepts to be opposed, but they are intimately connected, explained Bishop Filippo Iannone, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, presenting to the press the changes to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law. He even quoted in this regard St. Thomas, the great Catholic theologian, who says that “justice without pity leads to cruelty, but mercy without justice leads to the dissolution of order”. If the Code of Canon Law adheres to the supreme principle of the salvation of souls, this salvation – underlines Iannone – requires that “whoever has committed crimes, also atone for guilt. Mercy requires that those who have made a mistake be corrected ”.
Absolute novelty: the crime of child abuse committed not only by clerics, but also by members of institutes of consecrated life and by other lay faithful who hold positions in the Church was introduced into the Code. And this abuse is now framed not within the crimes against the special obligations of clerics, but as a crime committed against the dignity of the person.
In terms of assets, “there are several innovations which – according to Iannone – intend to put into practice, to translate into norms, the principles to which Pope Francis continually returns. First of all, the principle of transparency in the administration of assets, then the principle of correct management of the administration of assets: therefore abuses of authority are punished, corruption – both the corrupt and the corruptor – embezzlement is punished, ” mala gestio ”of the ecclesiastical patrimony. The activity of administrators who, for their own benefit or for the favor of others, manage assets without respecting the established rules is also punished. Let’s say that in the matter of assets there are more innovations than the 1983 code ”.
The new Book VI of the Code of Canon Law is not a hasty work of the last hour, but the result of a long process of reform initiated by Benedict XVI in 2007 and which came to fruition after extensive consultation with bishops and experts from all over the world. Method confirmed by Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, Secretary for several years of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. As a result of the works – Monsignor Arrieta reported – of the 89 canons that make up this Book VI, 63 have been modified (71%), another 9 moved (10%) while only 17 remain unchanged (19%).
According to Arrieta, the guiding criteria of the reform are mainly three.
In the first place, in order to ensure that there is also a uniform use of the penal norm throughout the Church, “the new norms have reduced the scope of discretion previously left to the authority”.
The second criterion which presided over the reform is “the protection of the community and attention to the reparation of the scandal and compensation for damage. The new text seeks to bring the penal sanctioning instrument into the ordinary form of pastoral governance of the communities, avoiding the elusive and dissuasive formulas that previously existed ”.
The third goal that we tried to achieve “is to provide the pastor with the necessary means to prevent crimes, and to be able to intervene in time to correct situations that could become more serious, without however renouncing the precautions necessary for the protection of the alleged offender, as a guarantee of what canon 1321 now affirms: “Anyone is deemed innocent until the contrary is proven”. Among the new criminal offenses considered more clearly, the new Code indicates the attempted ordination of women; the registration of confessions; the consecration of the Eucharistic species with a sacrilegious purpose.
Ultimately this legislative passage manifests the coherent action of Francis between words and deeds and his determination to bring the innovative spirit required by the Second Vatican Council into every area of the life of the Church.