apple and orange.jpgThe widespread astonishment, contempt, and anger
that has greeted the Vatican’s decision to include the “attempted
ordination of women” among the “graver crimes” falling under the
juridical purview of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
(CDF) has forced apologists for the new norms to issue explanations for
how it’s really not the case that (as I put
back on July 9) “Ordaining Women = Raping Children.” The
explanations boil down to distinguishing between violations of the
sacraments and moral derelictions.

As Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the
Vatican’s abuse prosecutor, put
, “Sexual abuse and pornography are more
grave delicts, they are an egregious violation of moral law…Attempted
ordination of women is grave, but on another level, it
is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the
sacramental orders.” In other words, a rotten apple is not the same as a
rotten orange, even though they both need to be thrown out. I could be
fired for sleeping with an undergraduate, plagiarizing an article, or
murdering my next-door neighbor, but that doesn’t mean that those acts
are equivalent.

Enough said? Not quite. That neat distinction
between the moral and sacramental levels is, I’m afraid, bogus. Consider
how the CDF came to be involved in sexual abuse cases in the first

Along with the new norms the Vatican issued a fascinating
” explaining the evolution of this latest exercise in
canon law, going back to the 1922 letter (reissued in 1962) that
occasioned some heated back and forth after the NYT published its long article
July 1 on Pope Benedict’s time as head of the CDF. This account does
not quite correspond with the analysis
canonist and Vatican critic Fr. Thomas Doyle did a couple of years ago,
but never mind. If your Latin is good enough, you can confirm from the original
(“Crimen Solicitationis”) that the involvement of the CDF
in abuse cases stems from the need to discipline priests who use the
confessional for sexual purposes. [Update: English version here.] The fifth section of “Crimen” simply
extends that concern (“mutatis…mutandis“) to “very bad” sex
crimes engaged in by clergy outside the confessional.

The point
is that the original jurisdictional issue had to do with a crime that
was both “moral” and “sacramental”–a moral violation of the sacrament,
if you will. But is that even a meaningful thing to say, in canon law
terms? Does the Vatican claim that it’s not immoral to ordain a woman?
Not that I’ve heard.

The crux of the matter is that the Pope and Curia have deemed it more
important to give the CDF the power to try bishops for ordaining women
than for covering up sexual abuse by priests. By their lights, the former
is a more serious problem than the latter. By mine, that’s a moral

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