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Did Relaxing Canon Law Contribute to the Clerical Abuse Crisis?

A prelate, a canon lawyer, and a theologian say sexually abusive priests should be excommunicated. A look into the new 1983 Code of Canon Law shows that the Church, with that code’s promulgation, introduced a laxer way of dealing with priestly child molesters and priests who are practicing homosexuals. This lenient change had grave consequences.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, OMI of Johannesburg, South Africa says Church law should be changed to automatically excommunicate priests who commit sexual abuse. The U.S. Catholic theologian Scott Hahn recently made a similar statement. An internationally renowned German canon law professor, Peter Landau, even formulated a terse and strict sentence that could be added to the Code of Canon Law.

Peter Landau – a professor of canon law who has also taught at Princeton and the University of Chicago – recently proposed the following sentence be inserted into the current Code of Canon Law: “A person who hurts a minor by a sexual crime incurs an automatic excommunication.”

Professor Landau is also of the opinion that the 1917 Code of Canon Law (CIC) was much stronger than the new 1983 Code of Canon Law. In an email to LifeSiteNews, Professor Landau commented, “the prescription of the CIC is, however, much weaker than can. 2359 § 2 in the code of 1917. Today’s can. 1395 § 2 is based on can. 2359 § 3 of 1917.”

In another follow-up email, Professor Landau further explains: “The [new] norm prescribes only generally the imposition of just penalties and, in grave cases, the dismissal from the clerical state.” However, “the specific penal provision of can. 2359 § 2 CIC 1917 has been canceled in 1983.”

Canon2359 § 2 and 3 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law stated:

§ 2 If an offense against the sixth commandment with minors under sixteen years of age be admitted, or if adultery, rape, bestiality, sodomy, pimping or incest with first degree relations be carried out, they are to be suspended, declared infamous and deprived of every office, benefit, dignity and function that they might have and in the more serious cases, deposed.

§ 3. If they have committed an offense against the sixth commandment in some other way, they are to be coerced with appropriate penalties according to the gravity of the case, not excluding deprivation of office or benefit, especially if they have care of souls.

As this legal text shows, the following clear set of penalties were set forth for child molesters and homosexually active priests: “They are to be suspended, declared infamous and deprived of every office, benefit, dignity and function that they might have and in the more serious cases, deposed.”

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