Friday, July 16, 2010
VATICAN CITY – The Vatican revised its in-house rules to deal with cases Thursday, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children and doubling the statute of limitations for such crimes.
Abuse victims said the rules are little more than administrative housekeeping since they made few substantive changes to current practice, and what is needed are bold new rules to punish bishops who shield pedophiles.
Women's ordination groups criticized the new rules because they included the attempted ordination of women as a "grave crime" subject to the same set of procedures and punishments meted out for sex abuse.
The rules, which cover the canonical procedures and penalties for the most serious sacramental and moral crimes, were issued as the Vatican confronts one of the worst scandals in recent history: revelations of hundreds of new cases of priests who raped and sodomized children, bishops who covered up for them, and who stood by passively for decades.
In 2003, the Vatican streamlined its 2001 procedures for disciplining abusive priests, allowing them to be defrocked without a lengthy canonical trial if the evidence against them was overwhelming. The rules issued Thursday codified those procedures into church law.
"That is a step forward, because the norm of law is binding and is certain," Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's prosecutor, told reporters. But he acknowledged that the document was just a set of rules whose application was critical.
"It does not solve all the problems," Scicluna said. "It is a very important instrument, but it is the way you use the instrument that is going to have the real effect."
While the bulk of the document codifies existing practice, some new elements were introduced: priests who possess or distribute child pornography and those who sexually abuse developmentally disabled adults will be subject to the same procedures and punishments as priests who molest minors.
The new rules extend the statute of limitations for handling of priestly abuse cases from 10 years to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday, and the statute of limitations can be extended beyond that on a case-by-case basis. Such extensions have been routine for years but now the waivers are codified.
But the new rules make no mention of the need for bishops to report clerical sex abuse to police, provide no canonical sanctions for bishops who cover up for abusers, and do not include any "zero tolerance" policy for pedophile priests as demanded by some victims.