The Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts presents the Apostolic Constitution “Pascite gregem Dei”. He explains that the revision of Book VI gives Bishops adequate means to prevent and punish crimes that are perpetrated in the Church.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru is the Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts. In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Christopher Wells, he explains why Book VI on Criminal Law has been revised and updated, and how it now provides Bishops with adequate instruments to prevent and punish crimes perpetrated in the Church:
Shortly after the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, the limits of Book VI on Criminal Law became apparent. Following an idea of decentralization the drafting of Penal notes has been largely indeterminate. It was thought at that time, that it was up to the bishops and superiors to decide, according to the gravity of the circumstances, which offenses to punish and how to punish them. This indeterminacy of the norms and the difficulties of many Ordinaries found at that time in combining charity with punishment was because criminal law was hardly applied.
Moreover, it was not understood that bishops reacted differently to similar situations.
This situation caused the Holy See to intervene assigning the most serious crimes exclusively to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and granting the faculty to intervene to other dicasteries of the Curia. Finally, Pope Benedict decided to review Book VI.
The use of penal discipline is part of the pastoral charity of those who must govern and protect their own communities of the faith.
Q: What are the criteria for the renewal of Book VI?
The main criteria for the revision of the penal law can be summarized in three points. First, better determination of the norms: setting out clearly the cases in which the penal system is to be applied and how offences are to be punished. Benchmarks are now also set to guide the action of the Ordinary while respecting the necessary margins for evaluating specific circumstances.
The second criteria have been the protection of the community: establishing when to prevent an announced scandal and recompensate for the damage caused.
Finally, a third objective has been to provide the authority with adequate instruments to be able to prevent offences, to promote amendments or to be able to prevent offenses before they can become more and more serious.
Q: What is new?
In general, overall two thirds of the canons in Book VI have been amended along these lines. New offences that have been defined by older laws over the years have been incorporated in the Code. Offences which in 1983 were effectively simplified have been better differentiated now. Some offences that were not included in 1983 have also been taken directly from the Code of 1970, for example in the area of poverty.
Finally, other offences have been incorporated ex novo or some have been extended. For example, the offence of abuse of minors or violence is applied not only with regard to clerics but also in relation to religious and lay people who carry out some kind of office or function in the Church.
In summary, these would be the main new provisions of Book VI of the Code.