VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Tuesday released the most comprehensive review of Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults, commit fraud or try to ordain women.
The revision, which has been underway since 2009, covers all of section six of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of approximately 1,750 articles.
It replaced the code approved by Pope John Paul II in 1983 and will come into force on December 8.
The revised section, comprising approximately 90 articles on crime and punishment, incorporates many existing changes in Church law made by Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI.
It introduces new categories and clearer and more specific language in order to give bishops less room for maneuver.
In a separate accompanying document, the Pope reminded bishops of their responsibility to follow the letter of the law.
One of the aims of the reviews, said Francis, was to “reduce the number of cases in which the imposition of a sanction was left to the discretion of the authorities.”
Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Vatican department which oversaw the project, said there had been “an atmosphere of excessive relaxation in the interpretation of criminal law”, where some bishops sometimes put leniency before leniency. justice.
Sexual abuse of minors has been placed in a new section entitled “Offenses against human life, dignity and liberty”, compared to the previously vague “Crimes against special obligations”.
The new section has been expanded to include crimes such as “grooming” minors or vulnerable adults for the purposes of sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.
This includes the possible defrocking of clerics who use “threats or abuse of authority” to force someone to have sex.
Last year, an internal report revealed that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused his authority to force seminarians to sleep with him. He was defrocked in 2019 for sexual abuse of minors and adults.
According to the new code, lay people in positions of responsibility in the church and found guilty of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults can be punished by the church as well as by civil authorities.
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While the church has historically prohibited the ordination of women and the prohibition has been reaffirmed by the popes, the 1983 code only says in another section that priestly ordination was reserved for “a baptized man.”
The revised code specifically warns that the person attempting to confer ordination on a woman and the woman herself automatically incur excommunication and that the cleric risks being defrocked.
Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, said in a statement that while the position was not surprising, spelling it out in the new code was “a painful reminder of the patriarchal machinery of the Vatican and its attempts to large-scale subordinate women. “
Reflecting the series of financial scandals that have plagued the church over the past decades, other new entries in the code include several economic crimes, such as embezzlement of church funds or property or gross negligence in their work. administration.