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Motu Proprio Harmonizes East and West on Sacraments

Zenit, September 16, 2016

In a May 31 Apostolic Letter, De Concordia inter Codices, “On the Agreement between the Codes,” Pope Francis harmonizes variations in some sacramental practices between the Western and Eastern Churches. Particularly in our own day, suggests the Holy Father, when there is an ever-greater population of Eastern Catholics in areas of the Latin Church, due both to persecution and the general mobility of populations, it is necessary to bring the two codes into agreement. The changes authorized by the Holy Father were first studied and suggested by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

A first clarification to the Latin Code confirms that, in the case of parents where one is Catholic and the other is non-Catholic Orthodox, the baptized child is ascribed to the Church of the Catholic, whether Latin or Eastern (see revised Canon 111§2). Latin priests may also legitimately baptize children of any non-Catholic Christian (Orthodox or otherwise), as long as one of the parents (or guardian) asks for it and it is impossible for them to ask their own minister (see Canon 868§3).

A second area of harmonization comes in the area of the clergy who receive marital consent. While the Latin Church admits priests and deacons to witness a marriage, the tradition of the Eastern Churches allows only a priest—a deacon who witnessed as minister the vows of an Eastern couple would do so invalidly. Consequently, a new third paragraph to Canon 108 reads: “Only a priest validly assists at marriages between eastern parties or between one Latin party and one Eastern party whether Catholic or non-Catholic.”

A third, and related, area of concordance includes the permission of a Latin Priest to witness the marriage of an Eastern Orthodox couple, when other canonical conditions are met (see Canons 1109, 1116).

An official English-language translation does not at present exist; the Latin text is available from the Holy See’s website.