Catholics angry as church puts female ordination on par with sex abuse

Women’s groups describe Vatican’s decision on female ordination as ‘appalling’

It was meant to be the document that put a lid on the clerical sex abuse scandals that have swept the Roman Catholic world. But instead of quelling fury from within and without the church, the Vatican stoked the anger of liberal Catholics and women’s groups by including a provision in its revised decree that made the “attempted ordination” of women one of the gravest crimes in ecclesiastical law.

The change put the “offence” on a par with the sex abuse of minors.

The revision of a decree first issued nine years ago was intended to address the issue of clerical sex abuse. Last night it remained unclear why the Vatican had decided to invite further controversy by changing the status of women’s ordination in canon law.

Since scandals blew up in Germany in January, five Roman Catholic bishops have resigned as evidence has come to light of priests who raped or molested children, and of superiors who turned a blind eye to safeguard the reputation of the church. Data from countries in which church membership is officially registered suggest tens of thousands of Catholics, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have abandoned their faith in disgust.

Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, stressed that the new rules on sex abuse applied solely to procedures for defrocking priests under canon law. They had no bearing on whether suspected offenders were notified to the civil authorities – he said bishops had already been reminded of their duty to do so.

The most important change is to extend the period during which a clergyman can be tried by a church court from 10 to 20 years, dating from the 18th birthday of his victim. Many people who were abused by priests are unable to summon up the courage to come forward until well into adulthood.

The new norms also streamline the procedures for dealing with the most urgent and serious cases, enabling bishops to defrock priests without a long, costly trial. They put abuse of the mentally disabled on a level with that of minors. And they introduce a new crime of paedophile pornography, defined as “the acquisition, possession or disclosure” by a clergyman of pornographic images of children below the age of 14.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who helped overhaul the rules, said: “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.”

Lombardi said the Vatican was working on further instructions “so that the directives it issues on the subject of sexual abuse of minors, either by the clergy or institutions connected with the church, may be increasingly rigorous, coherent and effective”.

But Barbara Doris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) said it was tackling the issue the wrong way round. “Defrocking a predator, by definition, is too late,” she said. “Severe harm has already been done.”

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/15/vatican-declares-womens-ordination-grave-crime



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