Pope Francis February 21 in an audience with members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts

“Bulwark in defence of the least”: Francis insists on importance of law, punishment in Church and State

Looking forward to the future promulgation of the revised section in the Code of Canon Law on “Sanctions in the Church”, Pope Francis today insisted on the importance of law and punishment in the Church and the State, calling both measures “a valid bulwark in defence of the least and of the poor, a protective shield of those that risk falling victims of the powerful on duty”.

Full text of the Pope’s address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts:

Lord Cardinals,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am pleased to welcome you today for the first time, at the end of your Plenary Session. I thank the President for recalling the spirit in which your works unfolded, whose argument was the scheme of the revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, De Sanctionibus in Ecclesia [“Sanctions in the Church”].

This meeting offers me the occasion to thank you for your service that, in the name and with the authority of the Successor of Peter, you carry out for the benefit of the Churches and of the Pastors (Cf. Christus Dominus, 9).

Your Dicastery’s specific collaboration is defined in the Constitution Pastor Bonus (Cf. artt. 154-158), which summarizes it in helping the legislative function of the Supreme Pontiff, universal Legislator, in the correct interpretation of the laws emanated from him, in aid to the Dicasteries in the matter of Canon Law, as well as in vigilance of the legitimacy of normative texts emanated from the lawmakers under the supreme authority.

Through different initiatives, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is committed in addition to offering its help to Pastors of the particular Churches and to the Episcopal Conferences, for the correct interpretation and application of the law; more in general, in spreading knowledge and attention to it.

It’s necessary to reacquire and reflect further on the true meaning of law in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, where the Word of God and the Sacraments are preeminent, whereas the juridical norm has a necessary but subordinate role and is at the service of communion.

In this line, it’s opportune that the Dicastery help to have one reflect on a genuine juridical formation in the Church, that makes the pastoral dimension of Canon Law understood, its instrumentality geared to the salus animarum (canon 1752), and its need out of respect of the virtue of justice, which must always be affirmed and guaranteed.

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In this perspective, all the more timely is Benedict XVI’s invitation in the Letter to Seminarians, but true for all the faithful: “To learn also to understand and — dare I say — to love Canon Law in its intrinsic necessity and in the ways if its practical application: a society without law would be a society deprived of rights. Law is the condition of love” (n. 5).

To make known and to apply the laws of the Church isn’t a hindrance to the presumed pastoral “efficacy” of those that want to resolve problems without law, rather, it guarantees from research non-arbitrary but truly just and, therefore, truly pastoral solutions.

By avoiding arbitrary solutions, the law becomes a valid bulwark in defense of the least and of the poor, a protective shield of those that risk falling victims of the powerful on duty.

We see today in the context of this ‘world war being fought in pieces’, how a lack of law and a lack of rights go together — always. Dictatorships are born and grow without law. This can’t be allowed to happen in the Church.

The subject of the study of your Plenary also goes in this direction, to point out that criminal law is a pastoral instrument and, as such, must be considered and welcomed.

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The Bishop must be ever more aware that in his Church, of which he is constituted Pastor and head, he himself, therefore, is also judge between the faithful entrusted to him

However, the role of the judge always has a pastoral imprint, in as much as it is geared to communion between the members of the People of God. It’s what is prescribed in the current Code: when the Ordinary has ascertained that, through other ways dictated by pastoral solicitude, it was not possible to obtain sufficiently the reparation of the scandal, the re-establishment of justice, the amendment of the offender, only then must he start the judicial or administrative procedure to inflict or declare the adequate punishments to reach the objective (cf. canon 1341).

Deduced from this is that the criminal penalty is always the extrema ratio, the extreme remedy to which to take resource, when all the other possible paths to obtain the normative fulfillment have proved ineffective.

Contrary to that provided by the State legislator, the Canonical punishment always has a pastoral meaning and follows not only a function of respect of the order but also the reparation and especially the good of the culprit himself. The and of reparation is geared to restore, in so far as possible, the conditions preceding the violation that has disturbed the communion. Every crime, in fact, concerns the whole Church, whose communion has been violated by one who has deliberately attempted against her by his behavior.

The end of the individual’s recovery underscores that the canonical punishment is not merely a coercive instrument, but it has a distinct medicinal character.

Ultimately, it represents a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, to reconstruct justice in the community of the faithful called to personal and communal sanctification.

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The revision work of Book VI of the Latin Code, which has committed you for some years and reaches its conclusion with this Plenary, goes in the right direction: to update the criminal normative to make it more organic and in accord with the new situations and problems of the present socio-cultural context, and at the same time to offer suitable instruments to facilitate the application.

I exhort you to continue tenaciously in this task. I pray for this and bless you all and your work. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me, because I also have to be a judge. Thank you.

(Source: ZENIT; translation: CD/Virginia M. Forrester)

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