It took a few decades but the Catholic Church has finally decided to take child sexual abuse somewhat seriously.
Today, the Vatican announced an update to the Code of Canon Law that’s designed to punish abusers while taking away that power from bishops who might otherwise be lenient with them. No more multiple chances. No more shipping accused priests to a new church. More than anything, it codifies punishing abusive priests by defrocking them — booting them from their jobs — and makes clear that grooming children is also unacceptable. It also extends penalties to Church leaders who aren’t priests but hold positions of power within the Church anyway.
One article of the new law makes it clear that abuse can extend to adults, and not just minors, and that a cleric “who by force, threats or abuse of his authority” violates the commandment against adultery, “or forces someone to perform or submit to sexual acts is to be punished” with penalties “not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.”
The new guidelines remove the discretion given to bishops and other church leaders that allowed for offenders to sidestep accountability and church authorities to cover up abuse. The new law makes clear that the failure to investigate and punish offending priests will have consequences, and seeks to speed up a process that victims and their advocates have criticized as lengthy and cumbersome.
The rules will go into effect this December.
Maybe the most amazing thing about this news is that these rules weren’t in place already despite decades of awareness of how badly they were needed. Will it stop abuse in the future? Hard to imagine it will. A priest who’s abusing a child clearly doesn’t take the job title seriously anyway, so getting defrocked would likely be the least of their worries.
The rules also say nothing about contacting secular authorities. So a priest accused of molesting a child might lose his role in the Church, but there’s no guarantee he’ll face any actual measure of justice.
This is a long overdue bandage on a scar that failed to heal. It’s the least the Vatican can do but, honestly, no one should pretend this will lead to significant changes. It doesn’t help the countless victims of the Church who have courageously told their stories and it doesn’t punish the priests who escaped justice for so long.
People who recognize the danger the Catholic Church posts left it a long time ago. You really have to wonder why anyone would willingly continue being part of an organization that has gotten so much wrong about such an important issue for this long. But if you sincerely think this is a huge leap forward, then the Catholic Church no doubt appreciates your gullibility.
This is too little, too late, and the sad thing is it probably gives the Church more wiggle room to not do anything more serious because they can just say they addressed the issue with this update.
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