Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 26, 2010
Revised norms send clear signal on sex abuse: Vatican official
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has revised its procedures for handling priestly sex abuse cases, streamlining disciplinary measures, extending the statute of limitations and defining child pornography as an act of sexual abuse of a minor.
Vatican officials said the changes allow the Church to deal with such abuse more rapidly and effectively, often through dismissal of the offending cleric from the priesthood.
As expected, the Vatican also updated its list of the "more grave crimes" against Church law, called delicta graviora, including for the first time the "attempted sacred ordination of a woman."
In such an act, it said, the cleric and the woman involved are automatically excommunicated, and the cleric can also be dismissed from the priesthood.
Vatican officials emphasized that simply because women's ordination was treated in the same document as priestly sex abuse did not mean the two acts were somehow equivalent in the eyes of the Church.
"There are two types of delicta graviora: those concerning the celebration of the sacraments, and those concerning morals. The two types are essentially different and their gravity is on different levels," said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, an official of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
Sexual abuse of a minor by a priest was added to the classification of delicta graviora in 2001. At that time the Vatican established norms to govern the handling of such cases, which were reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The norms affect how Church law treats sex abuse cases; civil law deals with the crime separately.
The latest revisions, approved by Pope Benedict May 21 and released July 15, for the most part codify practices implemented through special permissions granted over the last nine years and make them part of universal law.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said publication of the revisions "makes a great contribution to the clarity and certainty of law in this field, a field in which the Church is today strongly committed to proceeding with rigour and transparency."
The norms on sexual abuse of minors by priests now stipulate:
In 2003, two years after promulgating the Vatican's norms on priestly sex abuse, Pope John Paul II gave the doctrinal congregation a number of special faculties to streamline the handling of such cases.
The new revisions incorporate those changes, which were already in practice:
The revised norms maintain the imposition of "pontifical secret" on the Church's judicial handling of priestly sex abuse and other grave crimes, which means they are dealt with in strict confidentiality.
protect everyone's dignity
Lombardi said the provision on the secrecy of trials was designed "to protect the dignity of everyone involved."
The spokesman said while the Vatican norms do not directly address the reporting of sex abuse to civil authorities, it remains the Vatican's policy to encourage bishops to report such crimes wherever required by civil law.
"These norms are part of canon law; that is, they exclusively concern the Church. For this reason they do not deal with the subject of reporting offenders to the civil authorities," he said.
The new norms treat a number of other delicta graviora connected with sacramental issues.
On the "attempted ordination of a woman," the norms essentially restated a 2008 decree from the doctrinal congregation that said a woman who attempts to be ordained a Catholic priest and the person attempting to ordain her are automatically excommunicated.
The norms address violations against the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. One norm explicitly extends the crime of violating the seal of Confession through use of modern technology - by recording Confessions or making any such recording public through social communication media.
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