What the new revisions to the Code of Canon Law mean for safeguarding

A Latin-English edition of the Code of Canon Law is pictured on a bookshelf. New canon law provisions approved by Pope Francis are expected to help the Catholic Church safeguard against abuse. CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

VATICAN CITY.  The new series of laws and provisions set out in the revised section on crimes and penalties in the Code of Canon Law will help the Catholic Church in its efforts at safeguarding, said two canon lawyers.

And yet, like with every new norm and measure, its success will depend on following through on enforcement, being mindful in interpreting still unclear aspects, and working on remaining gaps, they said.

Pope Francis promulgated the new changes in “Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church,” and they will go into effect Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The revisions reflect almost two decades of work in updating, adding, clarifying and strengthening what the Church considers to be crimes and what provisions for sanctioning are available.

Much damage has come from not understanding how applying sanctions is part of exercising charity and establishing justice, the pope said, as “charity and mercy require a father to commit himself also to straightening what at times becomes crooked.”

Claudia Giampietro, a canon lawyer and project officer at the office for care and safeguarding for the International Union of Superiors General, told Catholic News Service that this mindset of respect and protection is a significant change.

The ultimate principle of safeguarding “is recognizing that a wounded humanity needs respect, and this must inform every single act performed within and outside of the Catholic Church,” she told CNS in an email response to questions June 3.

It shows how the revisions have been informed by and reflect “the voice of victims and survivors of abuse, which is making the Church aware and, therefore, responsible” in turning their requests “into canonical provisions which can support the healing process involving the entire ecclesial community,” she added.

Also, she said, by putting abuse, indecent exposure, pornography and grooming in a new chapter that adds the term “dignity,” – under the heading “Offences Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty” – this  shows an understanding that such crimes “harm the inalienable dignity of human beings acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” and are not just a violation of the Sixth Commandment.

“I believe that this choice of language expresses at its best the mind of a legislator (the pope) who has been always defending the inestimable value of every human life in his pontificate and in his entire life,” Giampietro said.

Msgr. Robert Oliver of the Archdiocese of Boston and formerly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors told CNS that “the one thing that stands out for safeguarding is that the Holy Father has introduced legal requirements that suspected offenses be reported and that bishops respond to these reports by making use of the Church’s penal procedures” for the restoration of justice, the reform of the offender and the repair of scandal.

In other words, where previous canons suggested what “can” be done when an offense has been committed, now the rules are what “must” be done and making sure the law is applied.

Giampietro said all the changes and new provisions created over the years “needed to be codified in the universal law to give clear normative directions to the whole Church.”

It also includes changes “that had to be included in the code more permanently,” she said, such as those found in “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” which was promulgated “ad experimentum,” for greater accountability of Church leaders.

Another significant change is expanding the application of canons dealing with abuse to religious and laypeople who have a role, office or function in the Church – not just to clergy, she said.

“It was a very much needed change as religious always felt that there was a gap in the legislation concerning them in relation to abuse cases,” she said, underlining how the women’s UISG has a safeguarding office and organizes online formation together with the men’s Union of Superiors General and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Here, “canon law is being studied and discussed as one of the instruments which can help to establish safe environments,” she said, and “it is encouraging, as a laywoman, to see how much superiors general work together for the care and protection of minors and vulnerable persons.”

One critical element still needing attention, Msgr. Oliver said in an email response to questions June 4, is “clarifying the definition of ‘vulnerable persons,’ a process that will include deciding individual cases of people, who were ‘limited in their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offense.’”

Other issues needing work to further help the Church in its response to abuse, he added, would be publishing how cases are decided and explaining the reasoning behind those decisions.

“Now the task is to implement these principles and norms effectively and to work out areas that still need to be better related to one another,” he said, saying “the size of this task can easily be underestimated.”

“It will require that dioceses, eparchies and conferences of bishops and of religious build the necessary organizational structures, especially by investing in the training of experts to carry out the investigations and penal processes,” he said.

Giampietro said she was “very hopeful that more positive changes concerning (laypeople) will be implemented in canon law” in the future. For example, “we would need a greater balance with the inclusion of more ecclesiastical lay judges. This would help to tackle clericalism in the Church, which Pope Francis has always discouraged.”

Every document and decree drafted over the years, she said, are pieces compiling a larger picture of what it looks like to “care for humanity.”

It shows “the will to learn from mistakes of the past and make sure that they are not repeated. Once we see these changes within this picture, we acquire the right disposition necessary to follow a path of universal healing,” she said.

Cardinal’s 60 years of priesthood cover volumes of memorable moments

Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, blesses the congregation as he leaves All Saints Catholic Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2013. The cardinal celebrated the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination April 25, 2021. Now 86, Cardinal Rigali has lived in residence with Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika since his 2011 retirement. CNS photo/J. Miles Cary, News Sentinel via The East Tennessee Catholic

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee.  You could say Cardinal Justin Rigali has had an altar seat to Catholic Church history.

From his youth in Los Angeles to assisting at the Second Vatican Council to a stint in Madagascar to serving four popes, and to being the shepherd of the St. Louis and Philadelphia archdioceses, Cardinal Rigali has seen his vocation to the priesthood take him around the globe.

Along the way, there have been volumes of memorable moments.

His ministry has placed him in the presence of such diverse personalities as St. Teresa of Kolkata; President John F. Kennedy’s widow, Jackie Kennedy; renowned Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir; notorious Uganda President Idi Amin; President Ronald Reagan; and prodigious criminal impersonator Frank Abagnale, on whom the hit movie “Catch Me If You Can” is based.

And he watched from Rome alongside St. John Paul II as the Berlin Wall fell Nov. 9, 1989, ushering an end to communism in Eastern Europe and the return of democracy to St. John Paul’s native and beloved Poland.

Through it all, Cardinal Rigali has strived to live his episcopal motto: “Verbum caro factum est” (“The Word Became Flesh”).

He celebrated his 60th anniversary in the priesthood April 25, six days after marking his 86th birthday. Since his retirement as archbishop of Philadelphia in 2011, Cardinal Rigali has been in residence in Knoxville with Bishop Richard F. Stika.

The future cardinal was a student at the Catholic School of the Holy Cross in Los Angeles when the thought of being a priest first came to him.

“I think it was kind of natural once it came up,” he told The East Tennessee Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Knoxville. “Then a priest came in to give a talk to the boys in the graduating class of the grammar school, so it stayed with me.”

After first declining an offer to attend the minor seminary, he changed his mind when he got a second chance. “At the end of eight years of grammar school, I was asked to go into the minor seminary and see what happens. So I did,” he added with a laugh.

Cardinal Rigali grew up in a large family that would see two of his siblings also pursue the priesthood and religious life.

As to others who influenced his vocation, Cardinal Rigali said, “I think you have to give a lot of credit to the grace of God first, because basically it’s the candidate who has to get the thought and find the good and not reject it.”

“Then as time goes on the Holy Spirit gives you the strength to consider and say, ‘Maybe this is something good for me. I like the idea of celebrating Mass. I like the idea of being with the people as a priest in their midst. So that’s what happened,” he said.

The future Cardinal Rigali was ordained a priest April 25, 1961, in Los Angeles by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, archbishop of L.A., and he served briefly in two parish assignments in and near the City of Angels. But his nearly quarter-century of serving the Vatican would soon begin.

“When I was ordained a priest, every young priest looks forward to his first assignment, and my first assignment was to be in a parish but just for a very limited time because they had decided to send me to Rome,” Cardinal Rigali said. “So I got there, and I was enrolled in canon law studies for three years in Rome.

“At the end of three years, then I was ready to come home and take the job that they were preparing for me, but at that point, however, the Holy See, the Vatican, was looking for U.S. priests, and they asked if they could have me come and study in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. That’s the school in Rome that prepares young priests to enter into service to the Vatican” as part of its diplomatic corps.

After 12 years in the seminary, he said, “I had two years still in Rome in which I was preparing to serve the Vatican in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. That was the school that later on I turned out to be the president of.”

“Then I was assigned as a member of the Vatican service,” he added, “and they sent me to the island of Madagascar, and it was a nice place, nice people.”

In the early days of his service to the Vatican, then-Father Rigali saw Vatican II convened by St. John XXIII and continued by St. Paul VI. The future cardinal served as a priest-assistant at the first two sessions of the council.

He recalled that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who has the title “Venerable” and is moving closer to sainthood, was one of the bishops in his section.

Cardinal Rigali served at the apostolic nunciature in Madagascar from September 1966 to February 1970. Upon his return to Rome, Cardinal Rigali was appointed head of the English-language department of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

“It was at that point that I got to know so many people,” he said. “I certainly have been influenced by the popes I have known.”

One of his jobs after returning was to be the English translator for the popes.

“My first pope that I became the translator for was Pope Paul VI, and Pope Paul VI was a wonderful, wonderful pope, and I was with him sometimes more than once a day,” Cardinal Rigali said. “And then I traveled with Pope Paul VI – I traveled with him to so many different countries, so many different places.”

Pope John Paul I was pope for only 33 days before he died unexpectedly Sept. 28, 1978, at age 65.

“He was a lovely person,” Cardinal Rigali said. “As head of the English-language department, I was brought down with the head of the Spanish department and a couple of other people – we came down to meet the new pope the next day (after he was elected). The new pope had audiences every day. It came one day when he had an audience with the bishops of the United States, and it happened to be the last audience of his life.”

St. John Paul II traveled to 129 countries in his pontificate, and Cardinal Rigali joined him on many of the journeys from 1979 to 1987.

When the vocation seed was planted in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over 75 years ago, a young Justin Rigali could never have thought that his priesthood would be so multifaceted.

Cardinal Rigali credits Father James Hansen, a parish priest, for planting the idea of the priesthood during grammar school.

“Perhaps I even had some inkling even earlier, but I know that in the grammar school I was asked if I had ever thought of that, and I said yes. That’s what I remember, and the rest is history.”

Dan McWilliams is assistant editor of The East Tennessee Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Knoxville.

Picture on pro-life billboard is worth a thousand words

The Pro-Life Ministry of the Diocese of Biloxi is putting up pro-life billboards in cities across the country, including Nashville. this billboard is located on Gallatin Road, north of Old Hickory Boulevard. Photo by Andy Telli

An initiative to spread a pro-life message to the community has spread from Gulfport, Mississippi, to Nashville.

The Pro-Life Billboard Initiative from the Diocese of Biloxi, with help from the Ladies of Charity in Nashville, has put up two billboards, with a third still coming, that include an image of the Blessed Virgin holding the Infant Jesus and the words “Choose Life, Pray, Pray, Pray.”

Billboards with the message went up on Monday, May 24, at West End Avenue just east of Lyle Avenue facing west and on Gallatin Pike, a half-mile north of Old Hickory Boulevard, facing north. A third billboard on Interstate 40 2.3 miles west of the Mt. Juliet Road-Exit 226, facing east, will go up on July 5.

The billboard on West End is a few blocks from the Planned Parenthood clinic on Dr. D.B. Todd Boulevard, and the I-40 billboard is near the Carafem abortion clinic in Mt. Juliet.

The billboard placements were chosen “to ensure when they see us, the end result is that the rubber meets the road; people coming into Nashville will see it and perhaps the signs will make them think twice,” said Marilyn Cox, a parishioner at the Church of the Assumption and a member of the Legion of Mary at St. Mary’s Church in downtown Nashville.

The Pro-Life Billboard Initiative began at St. James Catholic Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, in January 2019, when Penny Sullivan led an effort to promote the right to life and pray for its support worldwide.

“Our mission is to change the minds of women on their way to abortion clinics, and, with the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, we pray to help them decide to choose life,” said Karen Rhodes, who has been part of the initiative since the beginning and is now its president.

The group raised money from fellow parishioners to put up a billboard in Gulfport, Rhodes said. “It was simply a matter of talking to (Bishop Louis Kihneman III of Biloxi) first, getting written approval from him, and giving the parish priest the letter to ask for a second collection,” said Rhodes.

“The letter allowed our project to approach 16 other parishes, and our four-minute talk asking for a second collection went off like gangbusters,” said Rhodes.

The effort soon spread to other communities, including Pass Christian, Biloxi, Waveland, Ocean Springs, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Natchez and Batesville, Mississippi; New Orleans, Hammond, Baton Rouge, Gramercy and Lafayette, Louisiana; Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama; Destin, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and now Nashville.

The 27 billboards that have gone up to date have resulted in more than 8.5 million total weekly views, Rhodes said. The average monthly cost of displaying a single billboard sign ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.

“The response has been incredible, simply wonderful,” said Sullivan, the project’s foundress. “Our original goal was to put up two billboards per state, but now it’s already looking like we are going to have more displayed.”

Sullivan credits the Blessed Virgin for the Initiative’s success. “Our billboards feature a woman whom, when God created her, he made someone who is the best of everything,” said Sullivan. “All of our success is all the spirit of the Blessed Mother interceding for us, because we are honoring Christ, who as we all know, loved his mother, who was the most beautiful woman that God ever created.”

The initiative is now under the umbrella of the Diocese of Biloxi’s Pro-life Ministry.

Michelle Pisciotta, M.D., is director of the Biloxi Diocese’s Pro-Life Ministries. “I am also an OB-GYN, the diocese’s Natural Family Planning Coordinator, and involved in the billboard project since its beginning,” said Pisciotta.

“It is such a beautiful image, and people should realize that showing baby parts, sitting in judgment on someone, displaying anger, etc., just won’t work,” Pisciotta said. “These billboards just get people to stop and think, and choose life instead, without hitting them with statistics, and clutter.”

Cox, who led the initiative’s debut effort here, said, “I was contacted by Karen Rhodes, who is president of the project, and asked if I knew of any organizations here that might have an interest in displaying the billboards.”

Cox recounted how, beginning with her own church, “I approached 15 parishes that have a Legion of Mary and each one was willing to assist with the project.”

The Legion of Mary “does a host of work with expectant young mothers, such as referring them to Mulier Care, a mobile health care organization that offers ultrasounds and other pregnancy help for women in need,” Cox said.

Although pleased with the ministry’s on-going success, Rhodes is not happy with the controversy raging around abortion.

“I never thought that when Roe v. Wade was passed, all this time later would find our country in such a mess,” Rhodes said. “Everything is so extreme, with babies now being aborted full term in some states.”

She is proud of the billboards’ “simple but powerful message, which at least one doctor told me caused a pregnant woman to change her mind about an abortion,” Rhodes said.

“The expectant mother saw it, changed her mind, and eventually put the baby up for adoption after giving birth,” said Rhodes.

“When we go into a new area, the initiative tries to get a priest to bless the billboard sign, and I do believe that various miracles have kept coming up,” said Rhodes.

One such instance, said Rhodes, involved a billboard “which was located one mile from the beach, surviving Hurricane Zeta last October, whose winds destroyed two other commercial signs located side-by-side, right next to ours.”

“People want this,” said Rhodes. “It’s time to end this tragedy,” said Rhodes.

For more information about the Pro-Life Billboard Initiative or to donate, visit www.saintjameschurchms.com.