Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Delicta Graviora"

In Roman Catholic canon law, "delicta graviora" are the most serious offenses, and incur the harshest penalties. They are crimes.

The sexual abuse of children is already on this list, as one might expect. New norms from the Vatican, rumored for some weeks and announced recently, double the statute of limitations for reporting such crimes, from 10 to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday. They also broaden the statute a bit, extending protection not only to children but to the developmentally disabled.

There's nothing wrong with this, and much right with it. A person nearing 40 may be far better prepared emotionally to revisit the initial trauma, in the interests of justice, than one nearing 30. Years of therapy can do that for you.

So why are many Roman Catholics hissing and spitting about the new norms? Glad you asked.

The new norms add to the list of delicta graviora the ordination, or attempted ordination, of a woman. (Both fall under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, if you were wondering.)

Ooops. See, now it looks to many observers as though the Vatican is somehow equating the ordination of women with the sexual molestation of children. Any number of headlines today say more or less precisely that. You can imagine the howls of outrage.

Let's try to be fair, shall we? The list of graviora delicta has long included a variety of liturgical abuses, including the "attempted celebration of the [Mass]" by a person not ordained to do so -- a layman, a deacon, etc. Obviously, in Papist eyes, any woman is part of that "etc." In a sense, this is just an extension of the first rule, since "attempted ordination" leads, naturally, to "attempted Eucharistic celebration." (Oh, and by the way: another offense of this stature is the celebration of the Eucharist "with ministers of ecclesial communities ... not in full communion with the Catholic Church." Which is why even your nicest neighbors always turn down those invitations.)

Linked above is a pretty good piece from US Catholic. Brian Cones writes:

Quite frankly, it is an outrage ... to connect the aspirations of some women among the baptized to ordained ministry with what are some of the worst crimes that can be committed against the least of Christ's members.

Furthermore, [t]he Vatican has in effect given legitimacy and momentum to what is still an incredibly tiny movement with this clumsy legal manuver, tantamount to the United States dropping a nuclear weapon on Luxembourg--only more ridiculous because this will do absolutely no damage to women's ordination movement. ...

The faithful have been justly demanding for nearly a decade clear guidelines for dealing with the sexual abuse of children, along with just punishments for both offenders and bishops who have abetted these crimes. What we have gotten is half of what we have been asking for (still no sanctions for bishops), along with a completely unconnected and unnecessary condemnation of the ordination of women. This is especially ironic given that many Catholics, and I include myself among them, see the absence of women in positions of power in the church as a contributor to the ongoing sex abuse crisis.

This move is a mistake, plain and simple, imprudent at best, at worst a serious further blow to Rome's already damaged credibility.

Now, that's his opinion. We're outsiders, and don't really think that the canon law of another church body is any of our business. The precise ranking of abuses -- gave, gravest, or other -- is an internal matter.

What bothers us, and what we do consider part of our shared business with all Christians, is the Vatican's persistent tone-deafness to matters of public perception. Once upon a time, Protestants could rejoice in Papist scandals -- and indeed, Protestants spent much of the Reformation publicizing and even inventing such scandals. But in the present environment, our destinies are linked. The credibility and appeal of all Christianity is in the dock, daily, in the court of public opinion -- and the jury is inclined toward hostility.

Which is why we appeal to Benedict XVI and the Curia, in all sincerity, to stop thinking like legalistic bureaucrats, who can toil away in obscurity, and start thinking like public figures, whose success or failure depends upon being honored and loved by the people.

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