Up to now, if a Russian Orthodox couple living in Italy wanted to marry, and a priest of their church was not available, they would be out of luck. Thanks to a move by Pope Francis, however, local Catholic bishops may now authorize a Latin-Rite priest to officiate at such weddings, and even to baptize their children if there is no Orthodox priest present.
And any ambiguity over which Church can baptize a child where one parent is Protestant and the other is, for instance, a Maronite Catholic has now been swept aside. The child is to be registered as a member of the latter Church.
These are a couple of examples of the new provisions contained in Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio De concordia inter Codices, published Thursday. The document amends some parts of the Code of Canon Law of 1983, which sets rules for the Roman Catholic Church, to smooth out differences between it and the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches of 1990, governing the many Eastern Catholic Churches.
The motu proprio, which was signed on May 31, 2016, fills some gaps that emerged in the Code of 1983, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Mgr. Juan Ignacio Arrieta explains. These emerged as a result of the large numbers of migrants arriving in Europe and other western regions from former Soviet states since the fall of the Berlin Wall and from the Middle East as a result of the worsening political crisis in the region.
“In the early ’80s,” Arrieta explained in an article published by the Holy See press office and by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, “the marked acceleration of the migratory process that would affect countries with a Latin Canonical tradition in the decades to come was not evident at the time.” As a result, problems of disciplinary disparity between the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches of 1990 began to emerge everywhere, in daily pastoral activities. “They needed to be harmonized in order to provide a sense of certainty and simplify the lives of pastors.”
The issues that emerged had to do with concrete problems that Eastern Catholic faithful encounter in their daily lives in countries where Latin Catholics are the majority, and relate to subjects such as marriage, the baptism of children and the participation of Latin-rite ministers in the celebration of sacraments for Orthodox faithful, both in the case of baptism and marriage. The solution, which is the fruit of work carried out over a number of years, was essentially to copy provisions regarding these problems from the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches – this Code, which a year or so after the Code of Canon Law, already included a series of “ecumenical” provisions – aligning the two Codes and doing away with prohibitions or ambiguities relating to the administration of these sacraments.
“What stands out when reading the Motu Proprio,” concludes Msgr. Arrieta, “is that the reason for these reforms responds to the wish to facilitate pastoral care for faithful, especially in ‘places of diaspora’ as they are called, where thousands of Eastern faithful who have left their homelands behind, live in majority Latin-rite environments.”
On May 31, the Pope approved the publication of an “authentic response” to another question still regarding a discrepancy between Codes. It has to do with non-Catholics who want to become priests after converting to Catholicism but who committed certain irregularities prior to conversion. Msgr. Arrieta said that the “irregularities for receiving holy orders” – the diaconate, the priesthood or the episcopal order – mentioned in Canon 1041, relate to “those who have committed murder or abortion or seriously mutilated themselves or someone else or attempted suicide.” In this case, according to the previous canonical norm, everyone – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – can undertake such forms but according to “a purely formal reading of the Canon.” “those who are not members of the Catholic Church at the time of undertaking these forms of conduct,” “would not have incurred” canonical “irregularity.”
Ultimately, however, “both Catholics and non-Catholics are bound in equal measure to respect their own life and the lives of others.”
The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts therefore presented a proposal to the Pope for a modification of the Code of Canon Law (amending the norm regarding the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches) specifying that “irregularity” (and a potential pardon) should also apply to non-Catholics.
Msgr. Arrieta pointed out that there were “few such cases” which “are nevertheless significantly increasing,” mostly due to the fact that Orthodox faithful have switched to Catholicism, in light of Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.