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Pope promulgates revised canon law on crimes, punishments

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A series of laws and procedures promulgated by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and, especially, by Pope Francis to protect children, promote the investigation of allegations of clerical sexual abuse and punish offenders are included in a heavily revised section of the Code of Canon Law.

The revision of Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church, one of seven books that make up the code for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, was promulgated June 1 and will go into effect December 8, Pope Francis wrote.

Rewriting 63 of the book’s 89 canons, the revision addresses a host of issues that have come up in the life of the Church since St John Paul II promulgated the code in 1983.

The descriptions of crimes of sexual abuse, including child pornography, are more explicit, and the required actions of a bishop or superior of a religious order in handling allegations are more stringent.

The revised canons also include new references to the attempted ordination of a woman and to a variety of financial crimes; like with the new canons dealing with sexual abuse, they rely on language from laws promulgated separately over the past 20 years.

“In the past, much damage has been caused by a failure to perceive the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse—when circumstances and justice require it—to the discipline of sanctions. This way of thinking, as experience has taught us, risks leading to a life of behaviour contrary to the discipline of morals, for the remedy of which exhortations or suggestions alone are not sufficient,” Pope Francis wrote in Pascite Gregem Dei (Shepherd God’s Flock), the apostolic constitution promulgating the changes.

The revised book was presented to the press June 1 by Archbishop Filippo Iannone and Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, respectively President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. In 2009, Pope Benedict had asked the council to begin the revision project.

The revision moves the canons about the sexual abuse of children — on the part of a priest, religious or layperson working for the Church — out of the section on violations of the obligation of celibacy and into a newly titled section of ‘Offenses Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty.’