Monday, April 12, 2010

Vatican issues new guidelines on sexual abuse

Details at the Vatican Information Service blog.

Here's an excerpt:

In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state. There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree.

The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood and want to return to the lay state. The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae").

I think these guidelines leave the Church open to criticism because there's a lot of discretion here, e.g. use of the word "may" instead of "should".

I can just see the reaction: You mean if the priest is guilty of a crime, he's not automatically laicized?

It's like when you're convicted of murder. It should be punished with life in prison.

In the Catholic Church, a priest who attempts to marry incurs automatic excommunication. It seems to me that there should be a canon law that imposes a penalty at least as severe on sexual abuse.

What happens if the bishop judges the priest in a penal process and only gives him a slap on the wrist?

This brings me to something I've been thinking about with regards to the Church.

I'm all for stricter guidelines. But I've noticed this a lot with the Church. There are a lot of rules, a lot of doctrines, but lots of clergy just ignore them.

So coupled with stricter guidelines, the Church has to ordain and promote clergy who are keen on following Church doctrine and canon law. Otherwise, all these guidelines will remain a dead letter. It will be the same old crap. Now the clergy will only try to not get caught ignoring the guidelines. So long as there's a culture of laxity in the Church, this is not going to change much.

I have a hunch that in some cases, bishops may not want to punish fellow brother priests, especially the story never manages to make it into the media. It's plausible that it doesn't.

I don't wish to impugn any intentions on Pope Benedict-- he's trying to do the right thing.

It's the local churches that worry me. They do not have a good track record enforcing canon law.