Pope Francis has unveiled extensive changes to Catholic Church's criminal code on Tuesday (Jun 1) by adding details on punishing sexual abuse crimes of minors by priests, measures long demanded by activists against paedophilia.
The revisions, under discussion for more than a decade, were first commissioned by Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI with the aim of making the code’s penal sanctions more effective and applied evenly across the Church.
Under the new heading of "Offences against human life, dignity and liberty," the code now specifies that a priest will be stripped of his office and punished "with other just penalties" if he commits offences against the sixth commandment with a minor.
Under the revised laws, lay people, including founders of lay religious movements and parish employees, can also be sanctioned for sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse of minors was put under a new section titled "Offences Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty," compared to the previously vague "Crimes Against Special Obligations".
The new code however falls short of explicitly spelling out sexual offences against minors yet refers to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery.
“In the past, much damage has been caused by the Church’s failure to perceive the intimate relationship between the exercise of charity and recourse — when circumstances and justice require it — to the discipline of punishment,” Pope Francis wrote in Pascite gregem Dei.
Through the revision, Pope aims to reduce the number of penalties left to the discretion of judges, especially in the most serious cases.
The revisions involves all of section six of the Church's Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of about 1,750 articles. It will replace the code approved by Pope John Paul II in 1983 and will take effect on Dec. 8.
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