Ratzinger at Heart of Reform to Punish Wayward Clerics

Aide Summarizes Pope’s Decades-Long Effort to Streamline Canon Law

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ROME, DEC. 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Already in 1988, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was seeking to minimize the «complexity of the penal process» to deal with priests guilty of «grave and scandalous conduct.»

His actions in 1988 and the years following were detailed in an article by Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The bishop’s article comes as the pontifical council prepares to distribute the draft of a document with suggestions for revising Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, the basis of the Church’s penal law system.  

«For almost two years a commission of experts in penal law has been re-examining the text promulgated in 1983, taking into account the needs that have emerged in subsequent years,» the bishop explained. And this effort is «a specific task entrusted to the president and the secretary of the pontifical council by Pope Benedict XVI in the first audience that he granted to the new superiors of the dicastery on Sept. 28, 2007.»

«In the course of that exchange,» Bishop Arrieta recounted, «and in view of the specific technical difficulties that spontaneously came to light, it became clear that the initiative sprang from a deeply-held conviction of the Pontiff, the fruit of years of personal experience, and from his concern for the integrity and the consistent application of Church discipline. This conviction and this concern — as will be seen below — have guided the steps of the present Pope ever since he took office as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, despite the objective difficulties deriving, among other factors, from the particular legislative situation of the Church at the time, in the wake of the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.»

The bishop goes on to outline some basic characteristics of the ’83 code, particularly that «it matches the ecclesiological context delineated by the Second Vatican Council […] [implying] greater weight is to be given to particular law, and especially to the initiative of individual bishops in their pastoral governance.»

«One could say, paradoxical though it may now seem, that of all the books of the Code, Book VI on penal sanctions was the one that ‘benefited’ least from the constant fluidity that characterized the normative framework of the postconciliar period,» he added.


Bishop Arrieta then spoke of a document that has «come to light» as the pontifical council has worked on the revision of Book VI.

It is a letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to the then-president of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.  

«It is an important and unique document that draws attention to the negative consequences produced in the Church by some of the options contained within the penal law system established barely five years earlier,» the bishop said.

In the letter, Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the «good of the faithful» and the «considerable difficulty [some ordinaries are likely to experience] in implementing such a penal process.»

The letter requests the commission president’s «valued opinion regarding the possibility of making provision, in specific cases, for a more rapid and simplified penal process.»

Bishop Arrieta explained the response sent to the cardinal: «While agreeing on the fundamental requirement to protect ‘the common good of the faithful,’ the Pontifical Commission considered it dangerous to circumvent certain practical safeguards, preferring instead to exhort those in positions of responsibility to implement the provisions of the law.»

Just one month later, however, with the apostolic constitution «Pastor Bonus,» the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was entrusted with jurisdiction over the «offenses against the faith and more serious ones both in behavior or in the celebration of the sacraments which have been reported to it and,» and given faculties to proceed «to the declaration or imposition of canonical sanctions in accordance with the norms of common or proper law.»

Bishop Arrieta noted that this text was «evidently suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger’s congregation on the basis of its own experience.»

2 initiatives

In the years that followed these events, «efforts were still being made to address emergency situations arising within the Church’s penal sphere,» Bishop Arrieta said, but «the inadequacy of these solutions and the need to find others of greater scope, operating on a different level,» was verified.

He explained that Benedict XVI implemented two solutions in particular «in perfect continuity with the concerns [then-Cardinal Ratzinger] expressed in the above-mentioned letter of 1988.»

«The first initiative,» the bishop said, «now quite widely known, concerns the preparation in the late 1990s of the Norms on the so-called ‘delicta graviora,’ which effectively implemented article 52 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus by specifically indicating which crimes against morals and which crimes committed in the celebration of sacraments were to be considered ‘more serious’ — thus bringing them under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.»

Bishop Arrieta went on to note a «a second and much less well-known initiative of the current Pope» that has «certainly helped to change the overall application of the Church’s penal law.»

This initiative was an intervention then-Cardinal Ratzinger made as a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the preparation of the special faculties that were granted to that congregation for purposes of addressing other kinds of disciplinary problems in mission territories.

«It is not hard to understand that, owing to the scarcity of resources of every kind, the obstacles to implementation of the Code’s penal law system were felt particularly keenly in mission territories dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which, broadly speaking, represent almost half of the Catholic world,» Bishop Arrieta said.

He continued: «Hence, in its Plenary Assembly of February 1997, the Congregation decided to request from the Holy Father ‘special faculties’ which would allow it to act administratively in specific penal situations on the margins of the general provisions of the Code: the Relator of that Plenary Assembly was the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  

«It is public knowledge that these ‘faculties’ were updated and extended in 2008, while others of a similar nature and manner, have since been granted to the Congregation for the Clergy.»

A constant

Bishop Arrieta concluded by saying, «It seems unnecessary to add more. Specialized studies have already been published which offer a good account of the variations in the Church’s penal law system produced by all these initiatives. Experience will tell to what extent the modifications to Book VI that are now in preparation, keeping in mind these new faculties, will succeed in restoring balance.»

The bishop said his principal intention in detailing these developments was «to highlight the crucial role played, in this more than 20-year process of renewing penal discipline, by the decisive action of the current Pope, to the point that — together with many other practical initiatives — it truly constitutes one of the ‘constant elements’ in the activity of Joseph Ratzinger.»

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On the Net:

Full text of article: visnews-en.blogspot.com/2010/12/cardinal-ratzinger-and-revision-of.html

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