Apostolic Constitution Pascite gregem Dei

Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis Pascite gregem Dei, promulgating the reform of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law.

David Fernández Alonso-June 1, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes





"Feed the flock of God, ruling not by force, but willingly, according to the will of God."(cf. 1 Pt 5:2). These inspired words of the Apostle Peter echo those of the rite of episcopal ordination: "Jesus Christ, our Lord, sent by the Father to redeem the human race, sent the twelve Apostles into the world so that, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they might proclaim the Gospel, govern and sanctify all peoples, gathering them into one flock. (...) It is He [Jesus Christ, Lord and eternal Pontiff] who, through the preaching and pastoral care of the Bishop, leads you through your earthly pilgrimage to eternal happiness" (cfr. Ordination of the Bishop, Priests and DeaconsEnglish version, reprint of 2011, n. 39). And the Pastor is called to exercise his role "with his counsel, with his exhortations, with his examples, but also with his authority and sacred power" (Lumen gentium(n. 27), for charity and mercy demand that a Father also devote himself to straightening out what may have gone askew.

In the course of her earthly pilgrimage, the Church, beginning in apostolic times, has been giving herself laws for her way of acting which, in the course of the centuries, have come to form a coherent body of binding social norms which give unity to the People of God and for whose observance the Bishops are responsible. These norms reflect the faith which all of us profess, from which derives the binding force of these norms, which, being based on that faith, also manifest the maternal mercy of the Church, which always knows how to have as its goal the salvation of souls. Having to organize the life of the community in its temporal development, these norms need to be in permanent correlation with social changes and with the new demands that appear in the People of God, which obliges at times to rectify them and adapt them to changing situations.

In the context of the rapid social changes we are experiencing, we are well aware of the fact that "we are not simply living in an era of change, but in a change of era."(Audience to the Roman Curia on the occasion of the presentation of Christmas greetings, December 21, 2019), in order to respond adequately to the needs of the Church throughout the world, it was evident that the penal discipline promulgated by St. John Paul II on January 25, 1983, with the Code of Canon Law, also needed to be revised. It was necessary to modify it in such a way that it could be used by Pastors as an agile, salutary and corrective instrument, and that it could be used in a timely and effective manner. caritas pastoralisThe purpose is to prevent greater evils and to heal the wounds caused by human weakness.

For this reason, Our venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI, in 2007, entrusted the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts with the task of undertaking the revision of the penal norms contained in the 1983 Code.

On the basis of this assignment, the Dicastery undertook a concrete analysis of the new requirements, identifying the limits and shortcomings of the current legislation and determining possible clear and simple solutions. This study was carried out in a spirit of collegiality and collaboration, soliciting the intervention of experts and Pastors, and comparing the possible solutions with the needs and culture of the various local Churches.

A first draft of the new Book VI of the Code of Canon Law was drawn up and sent to all the Episcopal Conferences, to the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, to the Major Superiors of Religious Institutes, to the Faculties of Canon Law and to other ecclesiastical Institutions, in order to gather their observations. At the same time, numerous canonists and experts in criminal law from all over the world were also consulted. The results of this first consultation, duly ordered, were then examined by a special group of experts who modified the text of the draft according to the suggestions received, and then submitted it once again to the consultants for examination. Finally, after successive revisions and studies, the final draft of the new text was studied at the Plenary Session of the Members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in February 2020. After the corrections indicated by the Plenary Session, the draft text was transmitted to the Roman Pontiff.

Respect for and observance of penal discipline is the responsibility of the entire People of God, but the responsibility for its correct application - as mentioned above - belongs specifically to the Pastors and Superiors of each community. It is a task that belongs in an inseparable way to the munus pastorale The Church must exercise this as a concrete and unrenounceable demand of charity before the Church, before the Christian community and the eventual victims, and also in relation to those who have committed a crime, who need, at the same time, the mercy and correction of the Church.

Much damage has been caused in the past by a lack of understanding of the intimate relationship that exists in the Church between the exercise of charity and the exercise of punitive discipline, whenever circumstances and justice require it. Such a way of thinking - experience teaches us - carries with it the risk of temporizing with behavior contrary to discipline, for which the remedy cannot come solely from exhortations or suggestions. This attitude often carries with it the risk that, in the course of time, such lifestyles will crystallize, making correction more difficult and in many cases aggravating scandal and confusion among the faithful. For this reason, on the part of Pastors and Superiors, the application of penalties is necessary. The negligence of the Pastor in the use of the penal system shows that he is not fulfilling his function uprightly and faithfully, as we have clearly pointed out in recent documents, such as the Apostolic Letters in the form of "Motu Proprio." Like a loving motherJune 4, 2016, and Vos estis lux mundiof May 7, 2019.

Charity demands, in fact, that Pastors have recourse to the penal system whenever they must do so, keeping in mind the three ends that make it necessary in ecclesial society, namely, the restoration of the demands of justice, the amendment of the offender and the reparation of scandals.

As we have recently pointed out, canonical sanction also has a function of reparation and salutary medicine and seeks above all the good of the faithful, so that it "represents a positive means for the realization of the Kingdom, for rebuilding justice in the community of the faithful, called to personal and common sanctification" (To the participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, February 21, 2020).

In continuity with the general approach of the canonical system, which follows a tradition of the Church that has been consolidated over time, the new text makes various modifications to the law in force up to now, and sanctions some new criminal offenses. In particular, many of the novelties present in the text respond to the increasingly widespread demand within communities to see justice and order restored, which crime has broken.

The text is improved, also from a technical point of view, especially with regard to some fundamental aspects of criminal law, such as the right to defense, the statute of limitations for criminal and penal action, a clearer determination of penalties, which responds to the requirements of criminal legality and offers the Ordinaries and Judges objective criteria when identifying the most appropriate sanction to apply in each specific case.

In the revision of the text, in order to favor the unity of the Church in the application of penalties, especially with respect to crimes that cause greater harm and scandal in the community, has also been followed, servatis de iure servandisThe criterion of reducing the cases in which the imposition of sanctions is at the discretion of the authority.

With all this in mind, with the present Apostolic Constitution, we promulgate the revised text of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law as it has been ordered and revised, in the hope that it will prove to be an instrument for the good of souls and that its prescriptions, when necessary, will be put into practice by Pastors with justice and mercy, aware that it is part of their ministry, as a duty of justice - an eminent cardinal virtue - to impose penalties when the good of the faithful requires it.

In order that all may be suitably informed and thoroughly acquainted with the provisions in question, I hereby provide that what we have deliberated shall be promulgated by publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Panama. L'Osservatore Romano and then inserted in the Official Commentary Acta Apostolicae Sediseffective December 8, 2021.

I also establish that with the entry into force of the new Book VI, the current Book VI of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 will be abrogated, without anything worthy of particular mention to the contrary.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 23, 2021, the ninth year of Our Pontificate.


La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising