The Vatican on Tuesday released (1) the most comprehensive review of Catholic Church laws in the past 40 years, strengthening rules against clerics who abuse minors or vulnerable adults, use positions of authority to forcing sexual acts and ordaining women to ecclesiastical positions.
The review, underway since 2009 at the request of Pope Emeritus Benedict 16, concerns the entirety of section 6 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, a set of seven books of approximately 1,750 articles that define the guidelines and penalties for violators.
The changes, signed by Pope Francis, are the largest revision since the current code was approved by Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) in 1983, and are expected to come into effect in December. In a statement accompanying the publication, the pontiff said the standards must be in constant correlation with “social changes and with new demands emanating from the people of God.”
According to the Catholic leader, the revision aimed to promote the unity of the Church in the application of sentences, “in particular with regard to crimes which cause more damage and scandals in the community”. The changes, therefore, according to the Argentine Pope, will serve to “reduce the cases in which the application of sanctions is at the discretion of the authorities”.
“It had to be changed [o código] in order to enable pastors to use it as an agile, healthy and corrective instrument, and which could be used in time and with pastoral care to prevent serious illnesses and heal wounds caused by human weakness ”, declared the pontiff .
For Francisco, the lack of understanding of the intimate relationship between the exercise of charity and the performance of punitive discipline can lead to condescension with the misconduct of clerics. “This attitude often carries the risk that over time such lifestyles will crystallize, making correction more difficult and, in many cases, exacerbating scandal and confusion among the faithful.”
Filippo Iannone, head of the department that oversaw the project, said there was “an atmosphere of excessive relaxation in the interpretation of criminal law”. Now the new text, with around 80 articles on crimes and penalties, incorporates some changes made to church law in 1983 and introduces new categories.
Sexual abuse of minors, for example, has been placed in a new section entitled “Offenses against human life, dignity and freedom”, replacing the earlier, more vague version entitled “Crimes against special obligations”. The code provides for the suspension and / or revocation of clerical office to those who commit offenses against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, which preaches chastity in word and deed, with a minor or a person “generally imperfect in use. of reason ”.
The same penalty applies to religious who seduce minors and vulnerable to get them “to expose themselves in a pornographic manner” and to religious who “acquire, keep, display or distribute” pornographic images by any technology. Last year, an internal report concluded that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused his authority to force seminarians to sleep with him. He was filed in 2019 on charges of sexual abuse. According to the document, João Paulo 2º was aware of the charges against McCarrick before promoting him to the post of Archbishop of Washington, United States, in 2000.
Under the new version of Catholic law, Catholic ministers who ordain women to positions in the church are automatically excommunicated, as are women who receive ordination not accepted by the Vatican.
Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, said in a statement that while the church’s position is not surprising – the limitation on women is historic, and the 1983 version of the code reserved ordination for women. “A baptized man” – to explain it. in the new text was “a painful reminder of the Vatican’s patriarchal machine and its attempts to subordinate women”.
The article also provides for penalties for those who deliberately administer a sacrament to those who are prohibited from receiving it. The rule may apply, for example, to clerics who celebrate marriage – one of the seven Catholic sacraments – of persons of the same sex. In March, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), one of the bodies responsible for establishing church guidelines, announced that priests and other ministers cannot bless same-sex unions and that such blessings will not be considered legal.
“It is not allowed to bless stable relationships or partnerships that involve sexual activity outside of marriage. [ou seja, fora da união indissolúvel de um homem e uma mulher, aberta em si mesma à transmissão da vida], as is the case with same-sex unions, ”said the CDF, in response to parishes that have expressed a desire to give such blessings as a welcome to LGBT Catholics.
Reflecting a series of financial scandals that plagued the church over the past decades, the new code also provides penalties for economic crimes, such as embezzlement of church funds or property or gross negligence in its administration. . In December, Pope Francis issued a decree aimed at making charitable funds more transparent and strengthening the control of Vatican finances.
One of the main changes has taken place in the management of Óbolo de São Pedro, a fund to which believers around the world can contribute through donations and, according to Catholic tradition, aims to help the Pope run the Church. Catholic Church and to finance its charitable institutions. In recent years, however, the fund has been used by the Vatican to cover budget deficits and its reputation has been damaged by suspicions that the donations may have been used for questionable investments.