Keeping It Simple

Ian Elliott

I was struck recently by the content of an article carried by the Catholic News Service published on 24th July. The article was headed “Vatican revising canon law on abuse penalties, cardinal says”. This is a subject that has interested me for some years and so I read the article with great interest. It reported the content of an interview given by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmeiro who is the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. He was speaking to a reporter from the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatoire Romano. What was described shocked me.

The Vatican is indeed revising the canon law penalties which it has recognised are too vague and this is creating a situation where they are being applied haphazardly. The latter opinion is not only mine but is the stated view given by Bishop Ignacio Arrieta, the Council secretary. I was encouraged to hear that this was actually recognised and being acted upon but then I read on and discovered that the work of revision has been in progress since 2008! There is no anticipated date offered as to when it will be finished.

This really shocked me. On the one hand, a picture is being presented that it is understood that all that can be done to address the problem of clerical abuse within the Catholic Church, will be done but here we have a revision of canon law penalties taking six years and counting with no end in sight! With respect, I do not regard that as a credible position. Either there is a serious effort being made or there is not. I would suggest that taking six years to revise a section of the code of canon law does not indicate that the issue is being sufficiently prioritised.

I appreciate that the Catholic Church is not known for changing quickly. It tends to take its time to make decisions but there are some matters that require speedier responses. If a house is on fire, there is little to be gained in discussing fully with everyone the merits of calling the fire brigade before you actually do it. With regard to the problem of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church, the house is on fire and has been burning for quite a while and has really caught hold. It is time to get the fire brigade out.

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