On December 10, 2020, La Libreria Editrice Vaticana published the first compilation of the Vatican Penal Code, produced under the direction of Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.
The information was given to certain agencies, but if curiosity prompts one to search the Vatican News site, it takes patience to find it. Indeed, unless we were mistaken, this news only appeared on the Belarusian, Polish, Albanian, and Chinese pages - traditional or simplified.
A Code Required by the Creation of the Vatican City State
When the Vatican City State came into being in 1929, Pius XI “found himself in need of a comprehensive legal system.” Thus the various codes: civil, penal, as well as the procedural codes then in force in the Kingdom of Italy, were adopted.
As journalist Angela Ambrogetti of the Acistampa agency explains, the basic code is that of Zanardelli of 1889. The criminal procedure, which follows the Finocchiaro-Aprile code of 1913, comprises three levels of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court examines the legitimacy of a judgment, not the merits. What is special about this legal system is the possibility for the Pope, at the head of the three legislative, executive, and judicial powers, to intervene at any time during the investigation or the trial.
Mgr. Arrieta recalled in a interview on Vatican news radio that the Vatican “is a unique state, the sole purpose of which is to ensure the independence of the Holy Father in the exercise of his pastoral ministry in the Church.” However, this state has its own civil and criminal laws, which are not ecclesiastical. But it is not necessary to develop a large body of law for such a small territory. This is why they chose to adopt Zanardelli’s penal code, although it has not been used in Italy since 1930.
As Bishop Arrieta pointed out, Zanardelli's text is “anachronistic compared to the present day.” The compilation work added “many substantial changes” so that the new penal code has become “very different from the original version adopted in 1929.” Mgr. Arrieta continued: “The Vatican Penal Code as published today is the end result of a long process of revisions over the years.”
“A large part of the novelty comes from the commitments made by the Holy See in the international field,” he specified. In other words, the obligation to harmonize this criminal law with that of international law: crimes against humanity, abuse of minors, war crimes, acts of terrorism, and coups d'état, etc. “It was necessary to conform with the regulations of other countries in the international community,” he explains.
Bishop Arrieta concluded by recalling that “the penal code is fundamentally different from the code of canon law. It is not about religious matters or the discipline of the clergy, but prescribes against crimes in order to guarantee justice and social order.”
However, “canon law still remains - as Vatican law says - the primary source of normative and interpretative criteria in the state, which means that, although it is about norms and penalties of secular nature, the Vatican criminal court must take into account the criteria of humanity and the order of values imposed by canonical discipline.”
An Acistampa journalist concludes that “a public presentation of such an important text has not been organized.” In fact, it leaves the question as to whether there is a special significance in this information being given as a matter of priority in the aforementioned languages.