Pope Francis on Tuesday issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults, commit fraud, or attempt to ordain women.
It introduces new categories and clearer, more specific language in an attempt to give bishops less wiggle room to ignore their priests misdeeds.
Francis said the changes were needed to “avoid more serious evils and to soothe the wounds caused by human weakness”.
Punishment is promised for priests found guilty of “grooming or inducing” minors to expose themselves “pornographically”, as well as simply acquiring, stashing and distributing pornographic imagery of minors “by whatever technology”.
Recent events have forced some changes, including the possible defrocking of any cleric who uses “threats or abuse of his authority”, to force someone to have sexual relations with him.
Last year, an internal report found that American former cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused his authority to force seminarians to sleep with him. He was defrocked in 2019 on charges of the sexual abuse of minors and running a sex ring out of his New Jersey beach house, where one victim claims he was molested by him and three other priests, the New York Post reported.
The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Vatican department that oversaw the review project, said there had been “a climate of excessive slack in the interpretation of penal law”, where some bishops sometimes put mercy before justice.
Apart from addressing the sex abuse issues that have been plaguing the Catholic Church for decades, the revised code addresses some other touchy issues related to women’s rights – namely, abortion and allowing women to be ordained.
The Vatican’s stance on pregnancy termination remains unchanged and conservative. Namely, a “person who actually procures an abortion” shall be automatically excommunicated.
In other updated news for women, anyone who “attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order” face excommunication, with the cleric also risking permanent expulsion. In other words, female priests are still out.
Earlier this year, the Pope formally allowed women to read mass, yet he reaffirmed that ordained ministries, such as the priesthood, remain reserved for men only.
Kate McElwee, executive director of the US-based Women’s Ordination Conference, said in a statement that while the position was not surprising, spelling it out in the new code was “a painful reminder of the Vatican’s patriarchal machinery and its far-reaching attempts to subordinate women”.