FaithWorld

Vatican toughens child sex abuse rules, says ordaining women is serious crime

July 15, 2010

The Vatican made sweeping revisions on Thursday it its laws on sexual abuse, doubling a statute of limitations for disciplinary action against priests and extending the use of fast-track procedures to defrock them.

In an unexpected move, the Vatican also codified the “attempted ordination of a woman” to the priesthood as one of the most serious crimes against Church law.

The changes, the first in nine years, affect Church procedures for defrocking abusive priests. They make some legal procedures which were so far allowed under an ad hoc basis, the global norms to confront the crisis.

“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,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a Vatican doctrinal official who helped revise the norms, told a news conference. “If more changes are needed, they will be made.”

Victims groups said the new rules did not go far enough, particularly because they did not hold bishops directly responsible for the mishandling of abuse cases on their watch. BishopAccountability.org, a data center for sexual abuse in the Church, called the changes mere “administrative tinkering of a secretive internal process” and said the statute of limitations should have been eliminated instead of extended.

Feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt criticised the way the sexual abuse of children and attempted ordination of women were both listed as apparently equally serious crimes: “Mixing the two issues, even under the same legal umbrella, is a profoundly perverse proposition. Either these gentlemen are more ethically tone deaf than one can imagine, or they are sly beyond the dreams of foxes in an effort to redirect attention from the criminal behavior of clergy against children to their wrath over the ordination of women. Neither option is terribly appealing.”

Read the full story here and consult a factbox on the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

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(Photo:  Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardiat a news conference at the Vatican announcing the new rules, July 15, 2010/Alessandro Bianchi)

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