Under the revised laws, lay people, including founders of lay religious movements and parish employees, can also be sanctioned for sexual abuse.
The Vatican initiated the reform to canon law because of concerns that some parts of the Church were failing to apply penal sanctions amid the burgeoning abuse crisis.
“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.
“Such a way of thinking -- experience teaches us -- risks leading to living with behavior contrary to the discipline of morals, for the remedy of which exhortations or suggestions alone are not sufficient. This situation often brings with it the danger that, with the passage of time, such behavior will become consolidated to the point of making it more difficult to correct and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful."
Pope Francis signed Pascite gregem Dei on the Solemnity of Pentecost and the text was released on June 1. The revisions to Book VI will enter into force on Dec. 8, 2021.
At a Vatican press conference, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Vatican department that oversaw the changes, said that there had been misunderstandings about the relationship between justice and mercy in recent years.
This has “fed a climate of excessive laxity in the application of criminal law” in the Church, the archbishop said.
“The presence of some irregular situations within the communities, but above all the recent scandals, which have emerged from the disconcerting and very serious episodes of pedophilia, has, however, led to the need to reinvigorate canonical penal law, integrating it with precise legislative reforms,” Iannone explained.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, the secretary of the pontifical council, highlighted how the revised Code of Canon Law now includes crimes that have been typified in recent years in special laws, such as “the attempted ordination of women, recording of confessions, and sacrilegious consecration of the Eucharistic species.”
He said that new cases enumerated in the code also include the violation of papal secrecy; the omission of the obligation to execute a sentence or penal decree; the omission of the obligation to give notice of the commission of a crime; and the illegitimate abandonment of the ministry.