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.
Bishop of Hamilton Stephen Lowe, secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, says the new code makes it clear that bishops must take decisive action when abuse is reported to them.
The upgraded code makes punishment for offenses compulsory under Canon Law, as opposed to 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 says 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.”
Canon Law is the set of internal laws that govern the running of the Catholic Church. The last revision of Chapter VI was in 1983, and the revision approved last night began in 2009.