ROME – On Tuesday the Vatican published a long-awaited revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, unveiling a brand-new penal system including a handful of new crimes and making punishment for offenses an obligation, rather than a suggestion.
According to officials who worked on the project, the core idea is to overcome the idea that punishment for crime is somehow unmerciful or unpastoral, transforming the administration of justice into a routine feature of the life of the church.
One of the most highly anticipated changes to the code was its language and handling of the crime of sexual abuse, which was previously included under the umbrella of sins committed “against the sixth commandment.”
Under the new version of the code, which was promulgated Tuesday in an apostolic constitution titled Pascite Gregem Dei, or “Tend the Flock,” there is now an entire chapter dedicated to the issue under the title of, “Offenses Against Human Life, Dignity, and Liberty,” meaning that conceptually in Church law, abuse is now considered a crime against human dignity, rather than simply chastity.
The previous version of the code only mentioned the abuse of minors once in Canon 1395, which foresaw punishment for “A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years.”
In the new version, the reference to minors in Canon 1395 is taken out, and abuse is dealt with in Canon 1398 of the new chapter, which states that a priest who abuses, commits indecent exposure, or even grooms “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.”