CURRENT REVIEW: The aim of the new book is to show how the pontifical council has been in practice deprived of its functions, ousted from discussions of important reforms, and used only in sporadic cases.
ROME – For the eight years since his election, Pope Francis has been an active legislator. Beyond its high-profile reforms, there have been many other important but hidden legislative changes.
In making these changes, Pope Francis has mostly acted alone. The Vatican departments that normally oversee and harmonize new legislation with existing laws have been marginalized.
This is the snapshot of the Vatican presented in a recently released book with a actually broader thesis: that it is not just certain procedures that are at stake, but the whole edifice of canon law.
The title of the book is The recent attività normativa ecclesiale: finis terrae per lo ius canonicum? (The recent normative activity of the Church: the end of the world for canon law?) The author is Geraldina Boni, professor of canon law at the University of Bologna and consultant to the Pontifical Council for legislative texts since 2011.
The book is only available in Italian and has four chapters. The first outlines the history of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, a Vatican body responsible for interpreting the laws of the Church. The second concerns the progressive marginalization of the dicastery. The third clarifies the role of the dicastery. The fourth proposes a reform to make it central again.
The aim of the book is to show how the pontifical council has been in practice deprived of its functions, ousted from discussions of important reforms, and used only in sporadic cases.
But the book is also a fascinating investigation into legislative production under Pope Francis. Boni speaks on many measures taken, from those to counter the abuse crisis to those on the nullity of marriages, explaining why the lack of checks and balances previously guaranteed by the pontifical council has generated problems.
Italian magazine He Regno noted in 2017 that Pope Francis had enacted 50% more laws than Benedict XVI – and in half the time. Pope Francis’ legislative activity reached its peak when he stepped in to change the rules of the ongoing trial over the management of Vatican Secretariat of State funds, with four ad hoc rulings arriving during the investigation .
Boni considers this legislative activity to be part of Pope Francis’ modus operandi. His is a real cry of pain – shared by other canonists – before a pope who makes laws and rejects them without maintaining the homogeneity of decisions.
Boni notes that Pope Francis has regularly centralized legislative action. It emphasizes that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is no longer called to give so-called authentic interpretations of laws. This approach can make laws more difficult to read and interpret.
One example is the issue of negligent bishops in cases of abuse, as stated in the 2016 motu proprio “As a loving mother”.
Boni points out that the competence to assess possible negligence “has shifted” to the Vatican Congregations. She quotes Archbishop Giuseppe Sciacca, secretary of the Supreme Signature Tribunal, who said that this change “obviously means leaving to the discretion of the Dicastery both the assessment of” serious signs “of negligence and the very choice of open the procedure and the relative moment.
Sciacca added that “we must not – with caution – overlook the danger inherent in the possibility of employing the instrument in question for distorted uses motivated by serious dissent towards a bishop or, even, within the episcopate. of a region “.
Sciacca’s quote is one of many which show that Boni’s concern is not that of an isolated scholar.
In fact, in recent years, canonists have frequently noted, in more or less specialized texts, the risks inherent in this centralized legislative action.
The question is: if the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has been set aside in practice, along with canon law, who or what will function as a monitoring body to verify whether the new rules are consistent with the existing legislative framework?
Leaks regarding the upcoming overhaul of the Roman Curia are not encouraging. Praedicate Evangelium – the apostolic constitution which will regulate the functions and tasks of curial offices – would have reduced the pontifical council to the status of “office”. This means, according to Boni, that “canon law no longer has citizenship in the legislative activity of the pope”.
Boni’s investigation leaves many questions open. In this situation, is there legal certainty or is everything rather entrusted to the supreme legislator, who does not hesitate to adapt its provisions according to the situation, or when these do not prove to be consistent with the legal framework already in place?
Beyond these questions, there are other issues, such as why the Pope is acting this way. An answer may be found in the Evangelii gaudium, his “programmatic” apostolic exhortation published in 2013.
Two of Evangelii gaudiumThe main principles of “time is greater than space” and “realities are more important than ideas”. For this reason, the Pope opens processes without worrying too much about the consequences. As he has often said, one cannot be held back by the reasoning that “things have always been this way. “
The Pope does not make plans in cast iron because realities come first. The reform of the curia is done “by walking”, as Cardinal Marcello Semeraro noted in the magazine He Regno while he was secretary of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals.
Even legislative action is therefore subject to the pragmatic approach of Pope Francis. This sounds the alarm for Boni and other specialists in canon law. As laws can be made and then adjusted, how will it be possible to have a coherent legislative framework?
This is the reason why this book does not only deal with the marginalization of a dicastery. Instead, it shows the threat of a canon law crisis.