Pope Francis reveals changes in Catholic Church’s penal sanctions


Pope Francis is set to introduce some revisions in the penal code of the Catholic Church. The revisions have been long standing for more than ten years. They were first established by Benedict XVI with the intentions of making the penal sanctions of the code more substantial and used equally across the Church.

The Catholic News Agency reports that major revisions have been published by the Vatican on Tuesday to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law. This covers the penal law in the Church which includes sanctions linked to clerical sexual abuse.

The changes were the introduced by Pope Francis, 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 noted 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.”

New crimes were introduced in the aspects the financial and economic issues to canon laws. The crimes of minors’ sexual abuse and child pornography were moved to that of “crimes against life, dignity, and freedom of the person” from the section on “crimes against special obligations.” 

There is an addition of people that can be penalized for sexual abuse. They include parish employees, founders of religious movements, and lay people. The reform was initiated by the Vatican to canon law because there were worries that some segments of the Church did not make use of penal sanctions despite the growing abuse crisis. 

On the Solemnity of Pentecost, Pascite gregem was signed by Pope Francis while on June 1, the text was released. Besides, on December 8, 2021, the revisions to Book VI are expected to be implemented.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Vatican department that supervised the changes, Archbishop Filippo Iannone stated at a Vatican press conference that there had been disparity about the connection between mercy and justice in recent years. He added that this has “fed a climate of excessive laxity in the application of criminal law” in the Church.

“The presence of some irregular situations within the communities, but above all the recent scandals, which have emerged from the disconcerting and very serious episodes of pedophilia, has, however, led to the need to reinvigorate canonical penal law, integrating it with precise legislative reforms,” Iannone said.

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