The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

New document on sex abuse, women’s ordination

The long-awaited document was released this morning.

CNS has a first look:

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.

Read on. 

 The USCCB, meantime, has announced a couple of press conferences for today on the norms and the issues being addressed. Stay tuned.
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posted July 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

Can they really not afford a decent PR consultant? They could have avoided that problem of abuse vs ordination by issuing them separately by at least six months, preferably a year.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 11:42 am

Amen, Kenneth — talk about idiots!
It is one thing to release an entire code of canon law as a single document. But when we are talking about specific amendments, each individual issue should be issued separately, with some minimum separation of time between them. This isn’t just about controversial things, but just basic run-of-the-mill competence when it comes to exercising the teaching authority of the Church. You don’t conflate separate teachings together because people get confused and they don’t learn accurately.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

What was released was an updated text of laws, with changes in several laws not just the ordination of women and abuse of minors. Also included in the text were laws regarding the Eucharist, concelebration, Eucharistic celebrations with non-Catholics, disposal of the sacred species, rules for the Confessional–and several other topics. There were several changes. It wouldn’t make sense to release a “new revised text” every six months for the next 10 years. My understanding is that this is a book that puts in one place changes made over the last several years.

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John-Otto Liljenstolpe

posted July 15, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Hmmm, regarding the sin of the “attempted” ordination of women, I’m wondering if they’ve gotten around to notifying the Greek Orthodox Church about this now that that Church is ordaining women to the diaconate?

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Paul Snatchko

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Kenneth and cathyf — I agree with you. It was a mistake to let these two issues be combined in the press reports.
The change in how the Church handles sexual abuse allegations should have been introduced on its own.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Catholic Carthusian Nuns are ordained deaconesses. In general a deaconess help with the baptism of women and other ministries with women, but they did not assist at the altar–even among the Orthodox.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Here is a link to the Vatican document:
The decision about penalites for the attempted ordination of women was made in December, 2007. It’s been almost three years since the decision was first announced (but I assume not reported). The decisions about the sexual abuse of minors was made by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and ratified by Pope Benedict in 2005. These are not new decisions even if we are only hearing about them now.
The real news is that a revised text has been publish. The Vatican has updated an existing text to reflect decisions made over the past few years. How the media (including Catholic papers) choose to spin that is beyond the control of the Vatican.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 2:28 am

This is all OK.
Plus the continued work at the seminary level. Things are vastly improved from 20-25 years ago.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 8:43 am

For several months, I have been thinking about “bad” Vatican PR. Many blogs and writers have commented and criticized them about it. I’ve decided they don’t have PR. I don’t think Benedict thinks like that – he trusts that people will read the truth of what is going on. There is nothing fancy going on – just work as usual -here it is. The only timing he seems to consider is really interesting. He seems to plan many events and disclosures around feast days. He lives the liturgical year. I think it’s truly refreshing once you take a step back and look at it. He actually trusts the laity will think about it and understand. He trusts that we’ll do our part – and we will discuss it with others. PR means we want the Vatican to do it all. Folks, laity can’t complain about not being empowered when we don’t want to do the heavy lifting.
I’ve come to think that empowering the laity isn’t about having more of a say in parish life but is about us spreading the faith ourselves and defend our tradition instead of whining and dissenting about what we don’t like. Every PR “failure” exposes priests with power who are dissenters and laity who see themselves as members of an organization but really can’t talk about church. And, I think the above statements for many years is directed at me too!

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Cindy Cannon

posted July 16, 2010 at 11:03 am

Just the fact that the penalty for attempting to ordain a woman is flat out excommunication, and the penalty for priests abusing children is removal from the priesthood but not from the church indicates to me that the abuse of minors is “less” of a grave sin than a woman attempting to serve as a priest. Removal from the church altogether is a much greater penalty.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Cindy, I don’t see it as a question of punishment but of fact. There is a difference between knowing that something is a sin and doing it anyway, and doing something that you don’t believe is a sin precisely because you don’t believe it is a sin, or you believe it is a virtue.
At some point if one’s beliefs diverge enough from the Church’s beliefs, then it is simply fact that one is no longer a member of the Church. In this case excommunication is not some punishment which somehow fits the severity of some crime, but more a simple recognition of reality.

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Gerard Nadal

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Your own mortal sins and mine are enough to damn us to hell for all eternity if we die unrepentant. Rome needn’t create an exhaustive list of No-No’s for reference.
The sexual abuse of minors is a mortal sin that damns the offender to hell for all eternity if they die unrepentant, just as all mortal sin does. The abuser incurs the added penalty of being removed from the clergy and returned to the lay state, which is a devastating punishment for a priest or deacon. The Church applies no comparable punishment, or punishment at all for lay people who abuse children. Pretty remarkable when one considers that over 99% of child sexual abuse is committed by laypersons.
On ordination day Priests and Deacons undergo a radical change in their very human nature, and are priests and deacons for all eternity, whether active or laicized. They may never again celebrate the sacraments, which they still retain the power to celebrate by virtue of the ontological change to their very nature. This is the terrible anguish of the clerical abuser. So, when juxtaposed with the excommunication of those participating in farcical women’s ordinations, I hardly think their punishment a slap on the wrist.
The offending woman may confess and return to full participation in the life of the Church as a layperson. Thus, excommunication is for her a medicinal remedy that brings her to her senses and back to a life of sanctity.
The clerical abuser may come to his senses and never abuse a young person again (quite possible for those with a one-time incident with an older teen, as opposed to molesters of pre-pubescent children), but he still incurs a devastating penalty for the rest of his life. So in reality, it is the cleric in this document who suffers the greater punishment, not the excommunicated woman who attempts ordination.

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posted July 17, 2010 at 8:20 am

may God help the women to keep their body from such act.
and to be clinp to Holyness: if they should have sex let it be in their marriage:but those that have consecretent their body for the servise of Christ, may abodant grace be upon they to reach up to their promise to God in Jesus name amen.

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Fr. Jim

posted July 17, 2010 at 10:19 am

It’s important to keep in mind that excommunication is reversible through repentance and celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Being returned to the lay state is not reversible. Excommunication is medicinal in that it calls the person to repentance. Involuntary laicization is punitive and permanent. Anyone involved in an abortion, attempted ordination of a woman, schism, heresy, or apostasy can be returned to active participation in the Catholic Church though repentance and confession. A member of the clergy guilty of child sexual abuse certainly has the opportunity to repent and receive absolution, but never again able to function in priestly ministry – and his involvement in the church is severely restricted: attending mass, receiving the sacraments – essentially living a life of prayer and penance. Of course, depending on local laws and decision of the judicial system, this might also include time in prison.
That being said, while I understand why the Vatican released this comprehensive document, I believe it would have been more prudent to release the details of those things connected with child sexual abuse first and down the road release the comprehensive document regarding the competencies of the CDF.

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