News Commentary: Another Papal Failure to Protect

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Vatican Codifies Pedophilia As Offense Against Church

In the latest revisions to the internal laws of the Catholic Church (as reported by The New York Times), the Vatican has grouped pedophilia with heresy, apostasy, schism and attempts to ordain women, all threats to the church itself.  Additionally, the new amendments omit recognition that sexual abuse of children is a crime.

“It’s not for canonical legislation to get itself involved with civil law,” explained Charles J. Scicluna, internal prosecutor for sexual abuse cases.  It’s not for it to ignore it either.  In earlier guidelines, lacking the force of canonical law, bishops were advised to report sexual abuse to local authorities where laws mandated such actions.  Such directions don’t appear in the revised laws.

Additionally, the statute of limitations was increased from 10 to 20 years after the victim turns 18.  But those with any knowledge about the long-term impact of sexual abuse on children know that there can be a significant delay in the survivor’s ability to both remember and report such trauma.  Limiting reporting, and not holding priests responsible even years later, does nothing to support survivors.

The changes were touted by Scicluna as “…a signal that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse.”  The revisions speak more to the Vatican’s desire to promote a safer environment for itself.

There can be only one appropriate and indeed moral response to dealing with those accused of sexually assaulting children: to report them to the police for investigation and to remove them immediately from any contact with children.  If found guilty, they must be held accountable.  For the Pope to continue to take the law into his own hands in such matters represents a negation of his professed role as spiritual leader and raises the question of whether he even knows the right thing to do.