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The Church’s new penal canon law: The good, the bad, and the ugly

The revised text contains a number of important changes to the way in which penalties are applied in the Church, and the crimes which must be punished. It also includes the systematic incorporation of numerous laws promulgated in the Church in recent years, but not directly added to the Code of Canon Law.

Canonists and academics will likely spend months poring over the new canons, and unpacking the likely implications — both intended and unintended. 

But as they dive into the text, some changes will likely be regarded as laudable legal reforms, while others will eventually face criticism. And some aspects of the new law are already raising complex interpretative questions for canonists.

What will be praised? What will be lamented? What will probably lead to more questions? 

To get you started, The Pillar brings you analysis to the new Book VI: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

Law is good

Perhaps the first thing that can be said about the new penal code for the Church comes not from the text of the new laws, but from Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution promulgating it:

“The observance of penal discipline is a duty for the entire People of God,” the pope wrote. 

“In the past, the lack of perception of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the recourse – where circumstances and justice so require – to sanctioning discipline has caused much damage. This way of thinking – experience teaches us – runs the risk of leading to behaviors contrary to the discipline of morals, whose remedy only exhortations or suggestions are not enough.”

The project to reform Book VI began, as Francis noted, under Benedict XVI in 2007, and was part of a long series of legal projects aimed at bringing the Church’s penal code up to date after a series of scandals that included the Spotlight scandals of the early 2000s.

Many canonists believe the sexual abuse scandals of recent decades to have been exacerbated by a culture of antinomianism —  the notion, especially present in some quarters of the Church after Vatican Council II, that the idea of law in the Church, and the idea of the Church as a coherent society in need of law, is antiquated, draconian, or at odds with Christian charity.

Read more at Pillar Catholic

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