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Pope issues Motu Proprio modifying Canon Law

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Pope Benedict XVI has just made public a Motu Proprio modifying aspects of the Code of Canon Law.

The Vatican press release reads:

Made public today was Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, “Omnium in mentem”. The document is dated 26 October 2009 and contains two variations to the Code of Canon Law (CIC), variations which have long been the object of study by dicasteries of the Roman Curia and by national episcopal conferences.

The document published today contains five articles modifying canons 1008, 1009, 1086, 1117 and 1124. According to an explanatory note by Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, these variations “concern two separate questions: adapting the text of the canons that define the ministerial function of deacons to the relative text in the Catechism of the Catholic church (1581), and suppressing a subordinate clause in three canons concerning marriage, which experience has shown to be inappropriate”.

The variation to the text of canon 1008 will now limit itself to affirming that “those who receive the Sacrament of Orders are destined to serve the People of God with a new and specific title”, while canon 1009 “will be given an additional third paragraph in which it is specified that the minister constituted into the Order of the episcopate or the priesthood receives the mission and power to act in the person of Christ the Head, while deacons receive the faculty to serve the People of God in the diaconates of the liturgy, of the Word and of charity”.

Archbishop Coccopalmerio’s note then goes on to explain that the other changes contained in the Motu Proprio all concern the elimination of the clause “actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica” contained in canons 1086 para. 1, 1117 and 1124. This clause, “following much study, was held to be unnecessary and inappropriate”, he writes. “From the time the Code of Canon Law came into effect in the year 1983 until the moment of the coming into effect of this Motu Proprio, Catholics who had abandoned the Catholic Church by means of a formal act were not obliged to follow the canonical form of celebration for the validity of marriage (canon 1117), nor were they bound by the impediment concerning marriage to the non-baptised (canon 1086 para. 1), nor did they suffer the prohibition on marrying non-Catholic Christians (canon 1124).

The abovementioned clause contained in these three canons represented an exception … to another more general norm of ecclesiastical legislation according to which all those baptised in the Catholic Church or received into her are bound to observe ecclesiastical laws (canon 11).

“With the coming into effect of the new Motu Proprio”, Archbishop Coccopalmerio adds, “canon 11 of the Code of Canon Law reacquires its full force as concerns the contents of the canons thus modified, even in cases were there has been a formal abandonment. Hence, in order to regularise any unions that may have been made in the non-observance of these rules it will be necessary to have recourse, if possible, to the ordinary means Canon Law offers for such cases: dispensation from the impediment, sanation, etc”.

I look forward to hearing what canonists make of this. (To give them a headstart, the Latin text is here.)

Wikipedia has some interesting background on the deleted clause, actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica:

Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica (a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church) is the action by which someone formally, and not just de facto, leaves the Catholic Church. Canons 1086, 1117 and 1124 of the Code of Canon Law indicated some effects of such an act. A notification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in 2006 specified in what the act consists.

The Catholic Church in Germany and some other countries previously treated as such an act the declaration that some made to the civil authorities for the purpose of avoiding the extra tax traditionally collected by the state for the benefit of whatever Church the tax-payer was a member of. The Church in those countries considered people who made this declaration as no longer entitled to the privileges of membership of the Church, such as having a wedding in church.

The 2006 notification ruled that such declarations do not necessarily indicate a decision to abandon the Church in reality. It laid down that only the competent bishop or parish priest is to judge whether the person genuinely intends to leave the Church through an act of apostasy, heresy, or schism. It also pointed out that single acts of apostasy, heresy or schism (which can be repented) do not necessarily involve also a decision to leave the Church, and so “do not in themselves constitute a formal act of defection if they are not externally concretized and manifested to the ecclesiastical authority in the required manner.”

The decision to leave the Church must therefore be manifested personally, consciously and freely, and in writing, to the competent Church authority, who is then to judge whether it is genuinely a case of “true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church … (by) an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.”

If the bishop or parish priest decides that the individual has indeed made a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church – making a decision on this matter will normally require a meeting with the person involved – the fact of this formal act is to be noted in the register of the person’s baptism. This annotation, like other annotations in the baptismal register, such as those of marriage or ordination, is unrelated to the fact of the baptism: it is not a “debaptism”. The fact of having been baptized remains a fact, and the Catholic Church holds that baptism marks a person with a seal or character that “is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection.”

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Written by Luke Coppen

December 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

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  1. […] the new Motu Proprio really means My editor Luke Coppen has flagged up a new Motu Proprio coming out of Rome which heralds some changes to Canon Law. Motu Proprio Omnium […]


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