New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have welcomed Pope Francis’ approval of the new Book VI of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which toughens and extends sanctions against sexual abuse.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, said the revised code makes it clear that bishops must take decisive action when abuse is reported to them.
The upgraded code makes punishment for offences compulsory under canon law, as opposed to being suggested, as in the previous version. It also now
includes abuse of adults and vulnerable people (described as persons with “an imperfect use of reason”), as well as the persons under 16, covered by
the previous code.
It states that a priest who abuses, commits indecent exposure, or grooms someone “is to be punished with deprivation of office and with other just penalties, not excluding, where the case calls for it, dismissal from
the clerical state”.
“This new chapter of canon law sets out how the Church must deal with abusers, in addition to the criminal law sanctions,” said Bishop Lowe. “It removes a bishop’s former discretion to use canon law to punish someone who has committed abuse.
“The Church’s canon law exists alongside the civil and criminal law of the land,” he added.
“This revision of canon law covers the discipline of the Church, alongside and beyond the civil law, covering, for example, processes for Church discipline in the light of a civil prosecution, or for matters that might not meet the criteria for a civil prosecution.
“This affirming and widening by Pope Francis of the Canon Law provisions against abuse is welcome and timely, especially as it comes during the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care, which the Catholic Church strongly supports,” said Bishop Lowe.
“The Catholic Church accepts the responsibility to act when abuse occurs in the Church. We will act by listening, learning and supporting those affected
by abuse. We will act swiftly on complaints and follow them through. We will hold those to account who have been proven responsible for abuse. This
upgrading of canon law affirms that.”
The last revision of Chapter VI of the code was in 1983, and the revision approved in early June began in 2009.