Pope Francis Greets Children

Reaction to Vatican announcement to changes in Canon Law

This week the Vatican announced to great fanfare new Canon Law rules. One of the main reasons for this revision was in reaction to the crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church following a raft of global child abuse scandals. Headlines across most newspapers were broadly positive without any proper critical analysis and some have been just grossly misleading. For example, the Daily Mail ran with ‘Pope issues new Church laws making it a crime to groom children or vulnerable adults for sexual abuse’. Except that it is only a crime within the Church’s Canon Law – there is absolutely no new compulsion for a Bishop to report this crime to the Civil authorities of the country in which the Bishop operates.

Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show carried out its own analysis of the document concentrating on the child abuse element and below are some of the findings……or you can listen back to the segment.

Forcing Bishops to take action
The new Canon Laws do not force Bishops to report abuse to civil authorities. If a priest offends he can be de-frocked. These punishments may be applied for example for abusing a child. A priest can be removed from office where the case calls for it – this means it will be left to a judgement call by a Bishop, but there is no definition nor are there any strict guidelines of when or why a case might call for it.

Canon 13.24 Section 1:
The perpetrator of a violation is not exempted from penalty – but – the penalty prescribed in the law or precept must be diminished or a penance substituted in its place if the offence was committed by:

  • One who is lacking the use of reason due to culpable drunkenness
  • One who acted in the heat of passion which, while serious, nevertheless did not proceed or hinder mental deliberation and consent of the will provided that the passion itself had not been deliberated stimulated or nourished
  • One who acted against a person who was gravely and unjustly provocative

This last caveat displays a male mind-set that suggests that the victim, for example, an adult female, may have been a temptation as she was so provocative.

Section on the Offences against Children
If a priest commits an offence against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor: This basically is stating that if a priest interferes with a minor it is an offence of adultery under the Sixth Commandment. To consider an offence against a child, never mind the fact that it is a criminal act, as being an offence against the Sixth Commandment – ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ – is offensive to any child or parent of a child who has been abused. Yet in the 21st century, these clerical male administrators and their legal advisers have written this up as Canon Law.

This document is littered with caveats that rely on an individual Bishop’s subjective definition of what would account for diminished circumstances. No doubt there are some welcome changes but one very clear and obvious element has not changed – There is no Zero Tolerance and no Mandatory Reporting.

Report by Steve Rawson

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