Pope Francis updates norms on more serious ecclesiastical crimes
By Vatican News
Pope Francis has promulgated a new version of the “Norms on the Delicts Reserved to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” (Normae de delictis Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis), which concern the “delicta graviora,” the more serious crimes, which do particular harm to the Church. The norms, originally promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2001, and previously amended by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, have now been modified and brought up to date.
The crimes, or ‘delicts,’ covered by the norms remain the same. The changes involve, firstly, harmonising the norms with the revised Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which was promulgated in May 2021. There was a reciprocal adaptation and insertion of the new canons into the norms.
Secondly, the new norms incorporate numerous normative measures of various kinds issued in previous years, especially since 2016. These include documents – such as the motu proprios Come una madre amorevole and Vos estis lux mundi, and the two rescripts of December 2019 – aimed at a more secure and incisive juridical protection of the Church's greatest assets: the faith; the sanctity of the sacraments; and the lives of the weakest persons, who have limited means of protection: minors and adults with habitual imperfect use of reason.
Thirdly, the updated norms are aimed at improving the Church's legal action with regard to crimes reserved to the Congregation, including the most serious delicts against morals and the celebration of the sacraments, adjusting the practice to the norms of recent years. For instance, the 2010 norms prioritized the judicial process, leaving the extrajudicial (or ‘administrative’) process as an exception. Now, rather than defining one as the rule and another as an exception, the new norms insert the latter as an option, while still giving priority to the former. The possibility, for instance, of expulsion from the clerical state by administrative decree, without a trial (as in the case of a priest who adheres to a schismatic community and removes himself from the process) now becomes a norm, rather than merely a practice.
As noted, the new norms do not introduce any new crimes reserved to the CDF, and the classification of crimes remains unchanged.
The changes that have been introduced mostly concern procedural aspects, aimed at clarifying and facilitating the proper conduct of the Church's legal workings in the administration of justice.
The most important changes introduced in the normative text are as follows:
1. The canons have been updated to correspond with the revised Book VI of the CIC, which entered into force on 8 December 2021;
2. The normative changes introduced by the rescripts (Rescripta ex Audientia SS.mi) of 3 and 6 December 2019 have been incorporated;
3. A clearer distinction has been made between the judicial process (can. 1721 CIC and can. 1472 CCEO) and the procedure by decretum extra iudicium ('extra-judicial' decrees: cf. cann. 1342 § 1 and 1720 CIC, and can. 1486 CCEO), which did not seem to be sufficiently highlighted in the previous text;
4. The possibility of referring directly to the decision of the Supreme Pontiff, with regard to dismissal or deposition from the clerical state, together with the dispensation from the law of celibacy and - where appropriate - from religious vows, in cases of particularly serious offences contra fidem (Art. 2) has been included;
5. The time limits for lodging an appeal after the first instance judgment have been changed (from one month to 60 days), so as to standardise the judicial procedure with the extrajudicial one, given that the previous legislation differentiating the time limits often led to confusion, with consequent negative repercussions on the right of defence.
6. It establishes the need for counsel to assist the accused in the trial phase, a clause that is already included in the Regolamento of the Collegio per l’esame dei ricorsi in materia di delicta graviora (Article 6), so as to further guarantee the accused's right of defence.