Church strength­ens dis­ci­plinary ac­tions for priests and cod­i­fies or­di­na­tion of women as grave crime

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Donadio

VAT­I­CAN CITY — The Vat­i­can is­sued re­vi­sions to its in­ter­nal laws Thurs­day mak­ing it eas­ier to dis­ci­pline sex-abuser priests but caused con­fu­sion by also stat­ing that or­dain­ing women as priests was as grave an of­fense as pe­dophilia.

The de­ci­sion to link the is­sues ap­pears to re­flect the de­ter­mi­na­tion of em­bat­tled Vat­i­can lead­ers to re­sist any sug­ges­tion that pe­dophilia within the pri­est­hood can be ad­dressed by end­ing the celibacy re­quire­ment or by al­low­ing women to be­come priests.

The over­all doc­u­ment cod­i­fied ex­ist­ing pro­ce­dures that al­low the Vat­i­can to try priests ac­cused of child sex­ual abuse us­ing faster juridi­cal pro­ce­dures rather than full ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal tri­als. The Vat­i­can spokesman, the Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi, said the changes showed the church’s com­mit­ment to tack­ling child sex­ual abuse with “rigor and trans­parency.”

Those mea­sures fell short of the hopes of many ad­vo­cates for vic­tims of priestly abuse, who dis­missed them as “tweak­ing” rather than a bold over­haul. The new rules do not, for ex­am­ple, hold bish­ops ac­count­able for abuse by priests on their watch, nor do they re­quire them to re­port sex­ual abuse to civil au­thor­i­ties — al­though less for­mal “guide­lines” is­sued ear­lier this year en­cour­age re­port­ing if lo­cal law com­pels it.

But what as­ton­ished many The Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi, right, and Mon­signor Charles Sci­cluna un­veil a new set of Vat­i­can-is­sued norms on sex-abuser priests Thurs­day. Catholics was the in­clu­sion of the at­tempt to or­dain women in a list of the “more grave delicts,” or of­fenses, which in­cluded pe­dophilia, as well as heresy, apos­tasy and schism. The is­sue, some crit­ics said, was less the or­di­na­tion of women, which is not dis­cussed se­ri­ously in­side the church hi­er­ar­chy, but the Vat­i­can’s sug­ges­tion that pe­dophilia is a com­pa­ra­ble sin in a doc­u­ment billed a re­sponse to the sex­ual abuse cri­sis, which roared back from re­mis­sion in Europe this spring a decade af­ter it first erupted in the U.S.

“It is very ir­ri­tat­ing that they put the in­creased sever­ity in pun­ish­ment for abuse and women’s or­di­na­tion at the same level,” said Chris­tian Weis­ner, spokesman for We Are Church, a lib­eral Catholic re­form move­ment founded in 1996 in re­sponse to a high-pro­file sex­ual abuse case in Aus­tria. “It tells us that the church still un­der­stands it­self as an en­vi­ron­ment dom­i­nated by men.”

Arch­bishop Don­ald Wuerl, a top of­fi­cial of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, called the doc­u­ment a “wel­come state­ment” even as he took pains to praise the role of women in the church.

“Women of­fer unique in­sight, cre­ative abil­i­ties and un­stint­ing gen­eros­ity at the very heart of the Catholic Church,” he said at a news con­fer­ence in Washington. Still, “the Catholic Church through its long and con­stant teach­ing holds that or­di­na­tion has been, from the be­gin­ning, re­served to men, a fact which can­not be changed de­spite chang­ing times.”

At a news con­fer­ence at the Vat­i­can, Mon­signor Charles Sci­cluna, the Vat­i­can’s in­ter­nal pros­ecu- tor in charge of han­dling sex­ual abuse cases, ex­plained the change on women’s or­di­na­tion in tech­ni­cal terms. “Sex­ual abuse and pornog­ra­phy are more grave delicts; they are an egre­gious vi­o­la­tion of moral law,” Sci­cluna said in his first pub­lic ap­pear­ance since the sex abuse cri­sis hit. “At­tempted or­di­na­tion of women is grave, but on an­other level, it is a wound that is an at­tempt against the Catholic faith on the sacra­men­tal or­ders.”

The re­vi­sion cod­i­fies a 2007 rul­ing that made at­tempt­ing to or­dain women an of­fense pun­ish­able with ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. A priest who tried to or­dain a woman could now be de­frocked, the new doc­u­ment said.

Sci­cluna said that rules on their own could not erad­i­cate priestly abuse but that the church now had bet­ter tools to work to­ward that.

“This gives a sig­nal that we are very, very se­ri­ous in our com­mit­ment to pro­mote safe en­vi­ron­ments and to of­fer an ad­e­quate re­sponse to abuse,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to mak­ing the faster ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures for dis­ci­plin­ing priests the rule, not the ex­cep­tion, the new norms also added pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy and sex­ual abuse of adults with mental dis­abil­i­ties to the list of grave crimes.

The Vat­i­can also dou­bled the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for abuse cases to 20 years from the vic­tim’s 18th birth­day. Af­ter that, a priest could be re­moved from the min­istry but not de­frocked un­less the Vat­i­can lifted the statute of lim­i­ta­tions in the case, a right it re­serves on a case-by-case ba­sis.

Many vic­tims have said they did not feel able to come for­ward un­til long af­ter abuse took place.

An­drew Medi­chini

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