Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio
De Concordia inter Codices
On harmonizing Eastern and Latin Canon Law
On May 31, 2016, Pope Francis issued a document which sought to modify the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church in a number of ways regarding the interaction between Latin and Eastern Christians. The Church is guided by law. Specifically, the Church has two "books" of law, one for Catholic of the Latin Rite and one for those of the Eastern (or Oriental) Rite. These are the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church (issued in 1983) and the Code of Canon Law for the Oriental Churches (issued in 1990).
The purpose of these new changes is to address “some discrepancies between the two Codes” in hopes of providing a solution to provide “substantial convergence”. Note that this document does not take immediate effect. According to the terms of the law, this change must first be promulgated, which is normally not done until it is published in Acta Aposolica Sedis. However, the document itself indicates that the motu proprio was promulgated by being published in l'Osservatore Romano on September 15. After promulgation, this change in the laws takes effect three months after such publication. This means that the law does not take effect until December 15, 2016.
The Pope made these changes through an Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio (i.e., under his own authority). That Apostolic Letter can be found on the Internet in its official Latin and in an unoffical English translation.
Below is a rather quick description of the changes made in the law, and especially how it affects pastors. Some of my commentary and questions are included.
Changes in LawThe Code makes clear that when a child is baptized and only one of the parents is Catholic, the child is ascribed to the Church sui iuris (what we often call the "Rite") of the Catholic parent. (Can. 111 §2) This is true regardless of the ritual involved in the baptism of the child. For example, if a Latin Rite priest has permission to baptize the child of a Ukrainian Rite father and Protestant mother in the Latin Rite, the child would still be ascribed to the Ukrainian Church sui iuris of the father, even if the baptism were done according to the Latin rite.
The Code now clarifies that transfers to another Church sui iuris are effective only when the person transferring has made a lawful declaration of that fact. (Can. 112 §3) That declaration must be made before either (1) the local ordinary (the Bishop) of the Church sui iuris into which they wish to transfer or (2) before their proper pastor (or his delegate) and two witnesses. Without this declaration, no transfer of rite occurs. However, if there is a rescript from the Apostolic See, it can provide otherwise. This needs to be noted in the baptismal registry, which every parish must keep. So, for example, a Latin Rite Catholic woman marries an Eastern Rite Catholic man. He decides during the course of the marriage to transfer to the Latin Church. In order for that transfer to take effect, he must make his declaration either before the Latin Rite local ordinary (the local bishop) or before his proper pastor (or his delegate) and two witnesses. The bishop or pastor must inform the church where he was originally baptized so that they can make a notation of the transfer in his baptismal register.
The new changes re-state that proper notation must be made in parish baptismal records (and on baptismal certificates) when members of the faithful are ascribed to other ritual Churches sui iuris. (Can. 535 §2) In addition to the other information required in the baptismal registry (marriage, confirmation, adoption, sacred orders, final profession, and change of rite), the baptismal registry must note “adscription to another Church sui iuris and/or any transfer”. Thus, for example, in the case of a Latin Rite priest who baptizes the child of a Latin Rite Catholic and a Marionite Catholic, the parents can agree that the child will be ascribed to the Marionite Rite, even if the baptism is done in the Latin Rite. In that case, the Latin Rite priest must make a notation of that fact in the parish baptismal registry and noted on the Baptismal certificate.
In what I think is the biggest change in the law, the Code now allows Latin Rite priests more latitude in baptizing the children of non-Catholic Christians. This may be done if two conditions are met: (1) at least one parent (or one who legitimately takes their place) requests it and (2) it is physically or morally impossible for the parent(s) to approach their own minister. (Can. 868 §3) Note that this is not limited to non-Catholic Christians of Eastern Churches (the Orthodox), but would presumably include Christians of other ecclesial communities who are separated from the Catholic Church (Protestants). Moreover, the law normally requires that, for a child to be baptized, that there be a “well-founded hope” that the child be brought up Catholic. That provision now explicitly explicitly references (the Latin word used is “firma”) this new provision. That is, it would seem that with regards to the baptism of non-Catholic Christians, such a well-founded hope that they be raised Catholic does not apply. I must admit I find this provision a bit strange, especially considering the provisions of the law that "merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church". (Can. 11) Thus, the law requiring canonical form for a marriage to be valid (i.e., that it take place before an approved minister) is a "merely ecclesiastical law". Does this mean that the children of non-Catholic Christians who are baptized under this new canon would now be subject to all the "merely ecclesiastical laws"? It's not at all clear to me.
Another question with regards to this new canon is whether the baptism of the non-Catholic child must be recorded in the Baptismal Register of the church. Apparently, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, addressed this point in a news interview. He indicated that "the baptism would not be recorded in the Catholic parish's baptismal registry; the parents would receive a formal certificate and would register their child's baptism later at an Orthodox parish." Of course, the response from a curial official is not legally binding, or even an authoritative interpretation of the text. In addition, Bishop Arrieta continues to assume that the new provision applies only to the children of the Orthodox, which, of course, the language does not. I think it is still unclear whether such a baptism would be included in the register. With doubt falling on the side of caution, I think it would be prudent for any such baptism to be recorded in the baptismal register with a notation that the child is not Catholic and was baptized under this ecumenical provision.
Respecting the Eastern tradition, the Code clarifies that only a priest may assist at the wedding of a Latin Rite Catholic and an Eastern Christian – whether Catholic or not. (Can. 1108 §3, 1111 §1; 1112 §1; 1127 §1) This is necessary not just for liceity, but for validity. Thus, a deacon or delegated lay person may not validly assist any marriages that involve Eastern Christians, whether Catholic or Orthodox.
The Code now also permits the local ordinary (bishop) to grant to any Catholic priest the faculty to bless the marriage of Catholics of an Eastern Church not in full communion with the Catholic Church (the Orthodox). He may bless the marriage only if (1) they voluntarily request it and (2) nothing stands in the way of the licit and valid celebration of the wedding. The priest who blesses the marriage should inform the competent authority of the non-Catholic church. Note that this new section is in the context of those who cannot approach a competent minister without grave inconvenience and there is either (1) danger of death or (2) the inability to approach the competent minister is expected to extend beyond a month. For example, if an Orthodox couple desires to get married and they cannot approach their own minister for more than a month (or in danger of death), the Latin local ordinary may delegate any Catholic priest to bless their marriage.
[UPDATED to include information on baptismal registries, 16 October 2016)