The Code of Canon Law has a new section about penal law, offences and punishments. There are new things.

Today the Code of Canon Law was updated in a dramatic way.  An entire Book (major section) was chopped out and replaced with a new version.  This is Book VI which deals with “penal law”, that is, offences and punishments.  It takes effect on 8 December.

I am still absorbing the text.   It seems that quite a bit has been rearranged without wholesale change to the canons.  For example, I note that can. 1367, which concerns mistreatment of the Eucharist is now can. 1382.  It is moved from a section called “Delicts against religion and the unity of the Church” to a new section called “Offences against the sacraments”.

Can. 1388, which deals with the Seal of Confession, had two articles.  It is now can. 1386 and it has a third, which species making recordings or using tech to divulge what is said in sacramental confession.

Here’s a good one, not in the previous (still current until December) Book VI:

Can. 1379 § 3. Both a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by dismissal from the clerical state.

Diaconate is a sacred order.  Sorry, deaconette wannabes, this doesn’t look too good for your cause.  If there were any serious notion of a possible ordination of women to the diaconate, this would not have been included in the new Book VI.

The previous corresponding canons said that anyone who simulates the administration of a sacrament was to be punished with a just penalty.  Any attempt to ordain a woman to any sacred order would be simulation of a sacrament.   However, this new canon makes it explicit: women cannot be ordained – end of sentence.

There are canons that concern sexual “grooming” of minors or the vulnerable (qui sibi devincit aut inducit minorem aut personam) and use of pornography.  An interesting way to describe “groom” in Latin.

I see that can. 1357, which every confessor needs to know about, is still numbered the same and remains the same.

Can. 1321, which deals with who can be punished, now explicitly states that “§ 1. Any person is considered innocent until the contrary is proved.”  That wasn’t in old Book VI.

The section about “prescription” is expanded.  “Prescription” is a kind of “statute of limitation”.  Some crimes have to be dealt with in a certain period of time.  Some crimes have a longer period, for example, clerics who abuse minors, have 20 years whereas, a person who steals ecclesiastical goods, has 7 years.  There is also now to be, if I understand this rightly, a period of time in which the canonical process must be completed.  I need to look at this more, but my initial reading suggests that people can’t just twist in canonical limbo forever.  Their cases have to be dealt with in a certain period (NEW can. 1362 § 3).   I’m sure this will be made clearer.

Canonist Ed Condon at the new and engaging Pillar had this to say about can. 1362.  It seems I was right.  The rest of his observations are quite interesting too.

The new text of canon 1362 is a shot clock.

The canon allows a window of only three years from the beginning of a formal canonical process for the prosecution to conclude its case, before the clock on the statute of limitations starts running again.

Clerics in lingering canonical processes can now demand a resolution to their status, and eventually make a legal claim that the case against them has expired. Alleged victims can remind the Church’s canonical prosecutors, called “promoters of justice,” that the opportunity for justice can be thwarted by a running game clock.

Here’s something interesting.   The Apostolic Constitution (the highest form of papal document) promulgating this new Book, named Pascite gregem Dei, was issued today via the Bolletino in Latin (first), and Italian, German, and Spanish, but not in English.  I note with interest that a lot of things coming out of the Holy See don’t have Latin versions, at least at the beginning.  This does.  Of course it must be in Latin, since the Church’s official language and the necessary language in all things judicial is Latin.   Hence, if anyone should say that Latin isn’t really necessary anymore for the governance of the Church, just have a look at THIS.

And here is a key paragraph:

Elapsis temporibus, multa mala secuta sunt ex defectu perceptionis intimi nexus in Ecclesia exsistentis inter exercitium caritatis et poenalis disciplinae usum, quoties adiuncta id requirunt. Hic cogitandi modus – ut experientia docet – periculum secum fert degendi vitam iuxta mores disciplinae contrarios, ad quorum remedium solae exhortationes vel suasiones non sufficiunt. Huiusmodi rerum status frequenter secum fert periculum ne progrediente tempore talis modus sese gerendi ita inveterascat ut difficiliorem reddat emendationem multaque scandala et confusionem inter fideles disseminet. Hanc ob causam poenarum inflictio ex parte Pastorum ac Superiorum evenit necessaria. Pastoris neglegentia in recurrendo ad systema poenale manifestum reddit ipsum recte et fideliter officium suum non adimplere, uti expresse animadvertimus in recentibus documentis, cuiusmodi sunt Litterae Apostolicae Motu Proprio datae (Come una Madre amorevole diei IV mensis Iunii anni MMXVI et Vos estis lux mundi diei VII mensis Maii anni MMXIX).


In times past, many ills have resulted from a defect of perception of the intimate tie existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the use of a disciplinary penalty as often as circumstances require.  This way of thinking – as experience teaches – brings the risk of enduring life according to mores contrary to discipline, for whose remedy exhortations or suggestions alone do not suffice.  This state of affairs often brings with it the danger that, as time passes, such a way of comporting oneself becomes engrained with the result that it renders correction more difficult and spreads many scandals and confusion among the faithful.  For this reason the laying on on the part of Pastors and Superiors becomes necessary. The negligence of a Pastor in having recourse to the penal system makes it clear that is not fulfilling his office correctly and faithfully, as we are expressly drawing attention to in recent documents, of the sort like the Apostolic Letters given Motu Proprio (Come una Madre amorevole of 4 June 2016 and Vos estis lux mundi of 7 May 2019).

What is he saying?

He is saying that it is wrong to invoke charity and, thereby, to neglect imposing medicinal censures.  He is saying that, as experience proves, not imposing censures, and allowing a person to go on sinning winds up making it harder to correct the person and this negligence spreads scandal among the faithful precisely because the person is not being corrected by those whose job it is to apply the correction.  Bishops and religious Superiors who do not use censures to correct are not fulfilling their offices.

Does this have bearing on those bishops who refuse to follow what is clearly, obviously prescribed in can. 915 when it comes to obstinate Catholic politicians who, after having been informed and admonished, still carry on with manifest, public acts that promote sins?

Of course it does.  Admonishing does not work in some highly visible cases.  It’s time for action.

And yet there are dozens of U.S. bishops who don’t want to talk about “Eucharistic coherence” at their upcoming meetings.   Kick the can down the road.  Go along to get along.   Don’t be mean about Communion.  Use the “loving” approach rather than correction.

It doesn’t work and it is obvious that it doesn’t work.

Click me.


Distinguished canonist Ed Peters HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, 1983 CIC can. 915, Canon Law and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Josephus Corvus says:

    Thanks for the initial summary. I was going to look it up later when I had some time, but since you pointed out that there is no English version, I don’t have to waste my time. Actually I’m surprised (shocked?) that so far I don’t see anything objectionable. It looks like the only quibble I have is the extensive statute of limitations, but I have the same disagreement with civil law. If you know the facts around a specific situation, you should not have an extensive amount of time to decide if you were offended or not. The time should only apply if crime was unknown (say you didn’t discover that your maintenance guy stole the antique you had in storage) or if the crime was actively being investigated (you knew it was stolen but didn’t know who did it).

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    Very interesting. I was concerned when I read there has been a significant update to the canons covering sanctions, but the changes you are highlighting seem to provide better clarity, rather than less.

    I was curious about the canon previously numbered 1398, which now appears to be a subsection of #1397, regarding excommunication for procured abortion. Dr. Edward Peters has made several comments on his site about common confusion that occurs over how to apply this canon and specifically to whom. It seems like some clarification would be beneficial. Obviously, this is a serious matter, and one that unfortunately is likely to be relevant very frequently in our present time. There does not appear to have been any change, though.

  3. Pingback: THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  4. loyeyoung says:

    I am curious about the effect of the broadening of Canon 1373. It seems that it could be used by a bishop to silence laypersons who might express disagreement with the bishop’s decisions.

    Revised text:
    Can. 1373 — A person who publicly incites hatred or animosity against the Apostolic See or the Ordinary because of some act of ecclesiastical office or duty, or who provokes disobedience against them, is to be punished by interdict or other just penalties.

    Current text:
    Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

    So, here’s an extreme example: Let’s say that a lay person denounces on Facebook a bishop’s decision (perhaps out of a concern for spread of a deadly virus) to forbid the reservation of the Body remaining after communion and to require the Altar Guild (with proper protective equipment and anti-social distancing, of course) to bury the “leftover” Body in a nearby flower bed. Other lay faithful, being made aware of such a sacrilege, organize public demonstrations and demand the bishop’s resignation, and the Altar Guild refuses to comply with the bishop’s directive. Could the good bishop canonically punish the lay person for inciting animosity or provoking disobedience?

Comments are closed.