Authors Greg Erlandson and Matthew Bunson continue the discussion they began in the book from Our Sunday Visitor, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal. Send us feedback at email@example.com. Kindle Edition available for download at amazon.com.
The Vatican has issued — as predicted across the Catholic news and blogging world and in our book — a new set of revisions to Church law that are intended to strengthen and streamline the process for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.
John Thavis at Catholic News Service offers a bullet list of the main changes. The new norms:
-- Extend the statute of limitations from 10 to 20 years after a sex abuse victim's 18th birthday.
-- Include use of child pornography as a type of sexual abuse of minors.
-- Establish parity between abuse of mentally disabled people and that of minors.
-- Confirm the right of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation to ask the pope to laicize an abusive priest without a church trial, in the most serious and clear cases.
-- Confirm that the doctrinal congregation can use an "extra-judicial" process to quickly remove an accused priest from active ministry.
-- Confirm the practice of allowing qualified lay Catholics, and not only priests with doctorates in canon law, to serve on tribunals that deal with sex abuse cases.
-- Confirm the doctrinal congregation's competency to judge cardinals, patriarchs and bishops accused of "more grave crimes."
-- Lists "attempted sacred ordination of a woman" among the "more grave crimes" reserved to the doctrinal congregation.
-- Makes it a grave crime to record confessions with modern technology.
Among the revised norms, arguably the most striking provisions are the ones that speed up the process by which a bishop may remove a priest from ministry and by which the CDF may laicize a priest without a trial in obviously clear and severe cases (the final decision for that is in the hands of the pope).
Additionally notable is the jurisdiction of the CDF over cases of “more grave crimes” that involve bishops, patriarchs and cardinals. One of the criticisms of the Vatican’s handling of the sex abuse crisis has been the issue of what to do about bishops involved in scandalous behavior such as the sexual abuse of minors.
Controversy has already surrounded the inclusion of the ordination of women in the revised norms as graviora delicta (or “grave crimes”) and thus subject to severe ecclesiastical penalty, including excommunication. The ordination of women was listed with other religious crimes in Church law such as heresy, apostasy and schism and recording or broadcasting the sacrament of confession. There’s good canonical reason for including it, but it was pretty predictable that it would appear to the mainstream media — and even to many Catholics — to be establishing moral equivalence between women’s ordination and the sexual abuse of children and pedophilia.
The revised norms build on and strengthen the 2001 motu proprio by Pope John Paul II, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, that effectively transferred the jurisdiction over cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was then under the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). In the wake of that decree, several exceptions (or so-called “special faculties”) were issued mostly in 2002 and 2003 to improve the process further. These were at the request of Cardinal Ratzinger. The new norms codify these “special faculties.”
Some key links:
-- The new norms, English translation
-- Historical note on the norms
-- Summary in English of Vatican spokesman’s remarks
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