THE newly-published Code of Canon Law shows all the signs of being the legal embodiment of the thinking of Vatican 11. It contains seven books.
The first book, as in the old code, is titled General Norms. Although most of the laws in this section are technical in nature and fairly standard there are two that are particularly noteworthy.
— Lay persons may exercise the power of governance in the church when so authorised, whereas the old code restricted power of governance to those ordained. Elsewhere in the code this is carried out in opening certain offices, such as diocesan fiscal officer or associate judge on a diocesan court, to lay persons.
— The recognition of the diocesan bishop's right to dispense from all universal disciplinary laws of the church, except those explicitly reserved to some other church authority, is a recognition of the sacramental basis of the diocesan bishop's power to govern. This is a shift from a former tendenc to view a
bishop's authority as being delegated from Rome.
The very title of book two, The People of God, marks a fundamental departure from the old code's legal view of the church as a societv parallel to the state, and draws instead on Vatican II's understanding of the church as "the people with whom God has made a covenant."
This approach "stresses the fundamental equality of all members of the church arising from their common baptism, while at the same time recognising the church's hierarchical structure rooted in the sacrament of orders," according to one Canon Law expert.
Vatican 11 theology of the participation of all members of the church "in the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest and king" is emphasised
and is carried through, he said, in the next two books of the revised code. The Teaching Church (the prophetic office) and The Sanctifying Church (the priestly office). The Kingly office, of governance, pervades the whole code, he said.
Book five, Temporalities, sets rules to secure proper stewardship of church property. The new code stresses the need for accountability in financial matters.
The last two books of the 1983 code are like those in the 1917 code, but in reverse order. Book six is Church Sanctions, and book seven is Procedures.
But in the new code penalties have been drastically reduced. For example, the 1983 code reduces the number of crimes meriting automatic excommunication from 37 to six: "violation of the seal of confession; absolution of one's accomplice; illicit ordination of a bishop; physical violence to the Pope; profanation of the Holy Eucharist; abortion.
The book on procedures simplifies the old laws governing marriage court procedure but is not as simple as the special procedural norms in effect in the United States in recent years. Use of those procedures will end when the 1983 code takes effect.
The new code does not substantially change the situation regarding the church's attitude of discouraging priests from taking active roles in government and in union activity, said Pio Ciprotti, a lay consultor to the revision commission, at the press con ference.
Priests and nuns "must favour peace and accord based on justice, but they cannot assume posts which involve the exercise of civil power.
At a press conference announcing the promulgation last week, a Vatican official said the revised code would take effect Nov 27 and one of its key aims is to expand the role of the laity especially in areas where there is a severe shortage of priests.
The date of the signing, Jan 25, marked the 24th anniversary of the announcement by Pope John XXIII that an updated version of the church's laws would be drafted and that he would convene the Second Vatican Council.
At a press conference prior to the signing ceremony, Archbishop Castillo Lara said the new code greatly expands the role of the laity. As an example, he noted that in areas where there is a severe shortage of priests, the new code allows for parishes to be administered by lay men and lay women. Lay people so designated could not celebrate Mass.