Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church is firmly committed to bringing justice to victims of clerical abuse through the rigorous application of canon law.
In a speech to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the pope spoke of recent changes he made to the Church’s Code of Canon Law with the goal of making its “legal action more effective.”
“The Church, with God’s help, is vigorously pursuing her commitment to bringing justice to the victims of abuse perpetrated by her members, applying the established canonical legislation with particular attention and rigor,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 21.
The pope highlighted the changes he made last month to the CDF’s procedural norms for the most serious crimes, including the abuse of minors.
“This alone is not enough to stem the phenomenon, but it is a necessary step toward restoring justice, repairing the scandal, and correcting the offender,” Pope Francis said.
The pope’s comments came a day after the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising released a report on the handling of abuse cases that faulted Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, generating international headlines.
Pope Francis underlined that discernment is always needed “in the fight against abuses of all kinds.”
He added that discernment is also needed in the Church’s “synodal path.” Last October, the pope launched the diocesan stage of the two-year process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.
In this global consultative process of “listening and dialogue,” the Vatican has asked all Catholic dioceses worldwide to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.
At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.
“A synodal path without discernment is not a synodal path,” the pope told the CDF.
“In the synodal path, it is necessary to continuously discern opinions, points of view, reflections, but one cannot go in the synodal path without discernment.”
“This discernment is what will make the synod a true synod for which the most important character is the Holy Spirit, and not a parliament with the exchange of opinions that can take place in the media,” he said.
Discernment, the pope added, is key in the Vatican congregation’s work regarding marriage annulment or dissolution cases.
He spoke in particular about the dissolution of marriage “in favorem fidei” (in favor of the faith), which can only be approved on a case-by-case basis and solely by the pope.
“When, by virtue of Petrine power, the Church grants the dissolution of a non-sacramental marriage bond, it is not only a matter of canonically putting an end to a marriage, which has already failed in fact, but, in reality, through this eminently pastoral act I always intend to foster the Catholic faith — in favorem fidei — in the new union and in the family, of which this new marriage will be the nucleus,” the pope said.
Pope Francis told the CDF that there are currently many social and political tensions that threaten human fraternity.
“The temptation is growing to consider the other as a stranger or an enemy, denying him real dignity,” he said.
“Therefore, especially at this time, we are called to repeat, ‘at every convenient or inconvenient occasion’ (2 Timothy 4:2), faithfully following the 2,000-year-old Church teaching, that every human being has an intrinsic dignity that is valid from the moment of conception until natural death,” Pope Francis said.
“Precisely the affirmation of such dignity is the essential precondition for the protection of a personal and social existence, and also the necessary condition for fraternity and social friendship to be realized among all the peoples of the earth.”
“Let us not be satisfied with a lukewarm, habitual, textbook faith. Let us collaborate with the Holy Spirit and collaborate among ourselves so that the fire that Jesus came to bring into the world can continue to burn and inflame the hearts of all,” Pope Francis said.