WelCom August 2021
Pope Francis has made the most extensive revisions to the Church’s Code of Canon Law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who sexually abuse minors and vulnerable adults.
The Apostolic Constitution ‘Pascite Gregem Dei’, with which Pope Francis reforms Book VI of the Code of Canon Law on penal sanctions in the Church, comes into force on 8 December 2021.The most significant changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to address shortcomings in the church’s handling of sexual abuse.
New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have welcomed Pope Francis’ approval of the new Book VI, which toughens and extends sanctions against sexual abuse. Bishop of Hamilton, Stephen Lowe, secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), says the new code makes it clear that bishops must take decisive action when abuse is reported to them.
The upgraded code, makes punishment for offences compulsory under Canon Law, as opposed to suggested as in the previous version. It also now includes abuse of adults and vulnerable people (described as persons with ‘an imperfect use of reason’) as well as the persons under 16 covered by the previous code.
It says that a priest who abuses, commits indecent exposure, or grooms someone ‘is to be punished with deprivation of office and with other just penalties, not excluding, where the case calls for it, dismissal from the clerical state’.
‘This new chapter of Canon Law sets out how the Church must deal with abusers in addition to the criminal law sanctions,’ said Bishop Lowe. ‘It removes a bishop’s former discretion to use Canon Law to punish someone who has committed abuse.
‘The Church’s Canon Law exists alongside the civil and criminal law of the land,’ he added.
‘This affirming and widening by Pope Francis of the Canon Law provisions against abuse is welcome and timely, especially as it comes during the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care, which the Catholic Church strongly supports,’ said Bishop Lowe.
‘The Catholic Church accepts the responsibility to act when abuse occurs in the Church. We will act by listening, learning and supporting those affected by abuse. We will act swiftly on complaints and follow them through. We will hold those to account who have been proven responsible for abuse. This upgrading of Canon Law affirms that.’
To read the new Book VI online go to: tinyurl.com/Book-VI-Canon-Law
Sources: NZCBC; Vatican News