“We are relatively far”

Legal steps are a demand around the anti-abuse summit. The reform of the church criminal law is already on the way. Vatican law expert Markus Graulich explains in an interview what new impetus is now being given to it.

CBA: Where does the reform of the ecclesiastical criminal law stand??

Markus Graulich (Undersecretary in the Vatican Council for Legislative Texts): The idea of the reform was originally to include the content of the legal text of "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" SST on dealing with abuse in the Codex. Then, in the course of ten years of work, more and more points were found that need to be clarified. At the time of canon law reform in the early 1980s, people thought differently than they do today. At the time, punishment was considered outmoded in the Church. If you read through the texts, it often says: If there is no other way, one could then possibly still punish. Now one excludes "possible" punishments: Either it is punished or not. The reform is relatively far along; we were still waiting to see whether impulses would come from last week's summit.

CBA: Are there impulses?

Grayish: For example, the age limit for the offense of pedo-pornography on the Internet. Up to now this has been 14 years; yesterday the Pope said that this should be raised – probably to 18 years. Or raising the minimum age for marriage for girls from 14 then also to 16, with the church locally taking into account the state guidelines.

CBA: You say the reform of the penal code has already lasted ten years. Why so long?

Grayish: The consultations take so long: until all the bishops' conferences have responded, until these responses are systematized. For every canon that was going to be changed, you had total enthusiasm and total rejection, and in between, suggestions on how to improve the text. We had 46 meetings of three hours every two weeks to do this, to sift through all the material.

CBA: Where can and should the sexual penal law be made more precise?? "Violation of the sixth commandment" is very general and hardly comprehensible to the outside world.
Graulich: Criminal law is interpreted narrowly: The more precise you make it, the more falls out. Therefore, the general formulation "violation of the sixth commandment" is already better. Of course, the degree of punishment must be differentiated. Whether someone strokes your cheek or kisses a 17-year-old – even if it's not recommended – is different than a pedophile having his way with a prepubescent child. But these differentiations are in the penal code.
CBA: Must criminal law be amended to include a point that criminalizes abuse with adult subjects such as seminarians, students?
Grayish: That is a problem. We asked ourselves these questions after Cardinal McCarrick's Entlang. Must this combination of abuse of adults with abuse of power also be included in the Codex? The other question: is it not necessary to enact special norms of protection for seminarians and religious in the novitiate and during formation? These are for their consecration or Zulang yes dependent on the bishop or religious superior.

CBA: Does this mean that there is as yet no basis in canon law for the justification of McCarrick's Entlang, abuse of power with dependents?

Graulich: Yes, it is, when you put it all together. But it is not yet written concretely.
CBA: Should also non-clerics such as pastoral workers, religion teachers, catechists be included in the possible circle of offenders??

Graulich: Yes, this is a suggestion.

CBA: How realistic is the proposal to have metropolitans as checks and balances over bishops?
Graulich: The metropolitan structure of the Church is meant to be, but it hasn't played that role since there have been bishops' conferences. There was a proposal that a metropolitan must confirm punitive decrees of a bishop. The bishops have run up a storm against this. Theoretically it is possible; whether it is practically feasible and the bishops accept such a thing, I have my doubts.
CBA: From the decree "Like a loving mother", which regulates the Entlang about covering up bishops, it is said that it is suboptimal. The procedure doesn't really work that way. Does that need to be specified?

Grayish: No. But implementing regulations have to be made. In principle, the text makes it possible to remove a bishop who has neglected his duties. But how to proceed with the procedure …

CBA: They've been waiting for this for three years?

Grayish: To my knowledge they do not exist yet.
CBA: What do you think of the demand to lift the so-called papal secret in abuse trials?

Graulich: That applies to the procedures. The question is: What does one want to achieve with it? Disclose files or broadcast trials on television?

CBA: What would have to become more open and transparent?

Grayish: I don't know now what is being covered up there. The process in itself is closed. As an accused, as a victim, I know the people who testify, who are questioned. I am not sure whether all files can be read. The papal secret but also protects the victim by not hanging the matter on the big bell. This needs to be looked at more closely.

CBA: Another suggestion of the conference: ecclesiastical administrative courts to better protect lay people from arbitrariness …

Graulich: They were even planned. There is the supreme administrative court of the Apostolic Signature; the lower levels were eliminated in the course of the Codex reform between 1980 and 1983. I do not know the reasons. It would not be a problem to introduce it. In Germany, for example, we have the ecclesiastical labor courts, which do not exist elsewhere. They work well.

The interview was conducted by Roland Juchem.

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