The Vatican published Tuesday major revisions to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which covers penal law in the Church, including sanctions related to clerical sexual abuse.

Pope Francis introduced the changes with the apostolic constitution Pascite gregem Dei (“Tend the Flock of God”). He wrote that those who have committed a crime “need both mercy and correction on the part of the Church.”

The pope said that the revisions have improved “fundamental aspects of criminal law, such as the right of defense, the statute of limitations for criminal action, [and] a more precise determination of penalties.”

The reforms also introduced new crimes in the area of economic and financial matters to canon law and moved the canons concerning the crime of sexual abuse of minors and crimes of child pornography from the section on “crimes against special obligations” to that of “crimes against life, dignity, and freedom of the person,” as CNA reported last month.

Under the revised laws, lay people, including founders of lay religious movements and parish employees, can also be sanctioned for sexual abuse.

The Vatican initiated the reform to canon law because of concerns that some parts of the Church were failing to apply penal sanctions amid the burgeoning abuse crisis.

“In the past, much damage has been caused by the Church’s failure to perceive the intimate relationship between the exercise of charity and recourse — when circumstances and justice require it — to the discipline of punishment,” Pope Francis wrote in Pascite gregem Dei.

At a Vatican press conference, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Vatican department that oversaw the changes, said that there had been misunderstandings about the relationship between justice and mercy in recent years.

This has “fed a climate of excessive laxity in the application of criminal law” in the Church, the archbishop said.

“The presence of some irregular situations within the communities, but above all the recent scandals, which have emerged from the disconcerting and very serious episodes of pedophilia, has, however, led to the need to reinvigorate canonical penal law, integrating it with precise legislative reforms,” Iannone explained.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, the secretary of the pontifical council, highlighted how the revised Code of Canon Law now includes crimes that have been typified in recent years in special laws, such as “the attempted ordination of women, recording of confessions, and sacrilegious consecration of the Eucharistic species.”

He said that new cases enumerated in the code also include the violation of papal secrecy; the omission of the obligation to execute a sentence or penal decree; the omission of the obligation to give notice of the commission of a crime; and the illegitimate abandonment of the ministry.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.