Pope Francis Issues Apostolic Letter on Updated Canon Law to Allow for Dismissal or Reformation from Religious Orders in Cases of Abuse
Pope Francis has updated the canon law of the Catholic Church, which was changed in 2021. According to this, religious superiors are given greater freedom of action in punishing their members for sexual offenses. This emerges from a papal letter, a motu proprio, published by the Vatican on Tuesday.
See Apostolic Letter - Motu Proprio here: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/motu_proprio/documents/20220426-motu-proprio-recognitum-librum-vi.html.
In it the text of canon 695 §1, is amended as follows:
“A religious must be dismissed from the institute for the delicts mentioned in can. 1395, 1397, and 1398, unless in the delicts mentioned in can. 1395, §2-3 and 1398 §1, the superior decides that dismissal is not completely necessary and that correction of the religious, restitution of justice, and reparation of scandal can be resolved sufficiently in another way.”
Until now, a member of a religious order had to be dismissed from the order by their superior if they violated church criminal law with certain criminal offences, especially in the form of sexual and physical violence. With the new decree, religious superiors can decide for themselves in certain cases whether to expel the offender from the order or whether they consider that "other means have sufficiently taken care of the reformation of the religious and the restoration of justice or the reparation of the scandal can be".
The Holy Father explained that the change was introduced after hearing from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
This includes, in particular, crimes related to sexual violence, as well as sexual acts involving minors and other vulnerable persons. The “just punishments” provided for in Catholic canon law in these cases, such as dismissal from the clergy, remain unaffected by the new powers.
The new criminal law of the Catholic Church came into force in December. Above all, abuse, violation of supervisory duties and financial offenses were more precisely defined and punished more severely with the reform. Sanctions are formulated in more detail and church leaders are no longer free to choose whether or not to punish if proven guilty.