Should Clergy Agree to Abide by the New "Code of Conduct'?

By Jennifer Haselberger
Canonical Consultation
May 22, 2015

On May 19, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis sent to all clergy the newly revised Code of Conduct for Clergy and an amazingly abbreviated 'Archdiocesan Safe Environment Policy and Requirements'. I am posting the packet received by clergy below.

Since these documents went out, I have been asked if I would advise clergy to sign the attestation that they will abide by the Code of Conduct. My answer is 'no'. There is nothing I would like better than to see policies promulgated in this Archdiocese that would improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults. In my opinion, these policies will do little to achieve that goal. More importantly, they are overly broad, lack specificity, and confuse concepts and principles in such a way as to make them largely unworkable. Bad policies (as we have seen repeatedly in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis) quickly become irrelevant, widely ignored, and rarely enforced.

For instance, the Code of Conduct prohibits clergy from acquiring, possessing, or distributing 'pornography' (1.4). A good idea, certainly. However, it is not clear if by 'pornography' the Code means illegal images, or the more broad, and more inchoate, idea of obscene renderings that 'lack artistic merit'. Can you imagine that conversations that this lack of clarity will give rise to?

The obvious issue becomes who determines whether an item is pornography or 'art'. The unspecified 'whom' and 'by what standard' should be a concern for all clergy asked to adhere to this policy because it does not just apply to matters of sexual morality, but also to issues such as clerical dress. According to the Code, clergy are to dress professionally and appropriately. Yet, anyone who has participated in the discussion regarding the proposed Archdiocesan chasuble (or attended a Chrism Mass) will be aware that notions of what is 'appropriate' are open to debate and different interpretation. This particular provision is especially problematic because it is likely aimed at times when priests and deacons would not normally wear vestments or clerics. Can they wear shorts at a picnic? Will a particular priest have to abandon his lederhosen this Saint Boniface Day? I think I understand the intent of this provision, but again the formulation of the concept is so contrived as to make it basically unenforceable.








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