THE VATICAN has issued a new document making it easier to discipline priests who abuse children, and also made the possession or distribution of child pornography a canonical crime for the first time.
It also lists the attempted ordination of a woman as a “grave crime”, a move which women’s groups have criticised as equating female ordination with child abuse.
The document issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also states that priests who sexually abuse an adult who “habitually lacks the use of reason” should be subject to the same sanction as those who abuse minors. Such punishment can include the defrocking of a priest.
The Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Bishops’ Conference welcomed the publication, “Norms concerning the most serious crimes”.
The guidelines are the first major document to be issued by the Vatican since the latest clerical abuse scandal erupted earlier this year over the Church’s role in covering up such crime.
The document also extends the statute of limitations within which a child abuse complaint can be made from 10 to 20 years.
The Church’s internal system for dealing with abuse allegations has been under attack, because of claims by victims that their accusations were long ignored by bishops more concerned with protecting the Church. The role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which from 1981 to 2005 was headed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger has also been strongly criticised.
Spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said the changes were a sign of the Church’s commitment to addressing child sex abuse with “rigour and transparency”.
The Vatican in 2007 issued a decree saying the attempted ordination of women would result in automatic excommunication for the woman and the ordaining priest. That is repeated in the document.
Abuse victim groups have criticised the guidelines for failing properly to address bishops’ reporting of abuse to police. Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) co-ordinator, John Kelly said he doesn’t want to see the Church having anything more to do with child protection investigations.
“They have shown repeatedly that they can’t be trusted. Their guidelines should be to suspend a suspect priest immediately and to inform the civil authorities. They should not be involved in any self-regulation.”
Vatican sex crimes prosecutor Monsignor Charles Scicluna said the document was a “step forward because the norm of law is binding and is certain”.
Mgr Scicluna added that including the two canonical crimes, sex abuse and ordination of women, in the same document was not equating them, but was done to codify the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with.
Attempting to ordain a woman violates the sacrament of holy orders and was therefore included, he said.
The US-based Women’s Ordination Conference which works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops said it was shocking the Church is still so forcibly against female equality in the 21st century.
“The idea that women seeking to spread the message of God somehow defiles the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backwards Church that still views women as unclean and unholy,” said its executive director, Erin Saiz Hanna.
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