Vatican Smokescreen Maneuver: The Dreaded Delicta Graviora

By Heather Abraham

While Vatican watchers and the Catholic faithful have been expecting a preview of the updated procedural “norms” that are expected to be officially released later this summer, many were shocked at the Vatican’s latest stance on the subject of women’s ordination.  According to the Catholic News Service, many of the anticipated procedural revisions center on issues relating to the decades-long sexual abuse scandals that have been periodically erupting in parishes worldwide.  

Although the Vatican declared the sexual abuse of minors to be “delicta graviora” in 2001, victims and Vatican watchers were hoping that the Church would make progressive changes in official guidelines in regards to holding both offenders and Church officials who abetted the crimes responsible.  The announced revisions include subtle expansion of the current norms to include:

  • An extension of the church’s statute of limitations for penal actions against those accused of sexual abuse of minors—allowing victims to come forth up to 20 years after their 18th birthdays. 
  • Child pornography will be included under the category of sexual abuse of minors.   
  • The sexual abuse of mentally disabled adults is analogous to the sexual abuse of minors.   

Interestingly, the Vatican is silent on the issue of holding bishops, who participate in cover ups, accountable to victims and the law.  David Gibson of Politics Daily reported that “the changes are seen as fairly minor concessions in a decades-long battle to push Rome to act forcefully against abusers.” Considering the fierce fire the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI have come under since the most recent sexual abuse scandals hit mainstream media, many are disappointed, but not surprised, with the Vatican’s modest gestures. 

What is surprising to many, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, is the Vatican’s renewed and intensified condemnation of the ordination of women.  The new norms will declare any attempted ordination of women to be comparable to sexual abuse of children or delicta graviora.  This decision is more than a little suspicious given its timing and the fact that excommunication is already automatic for any woman who attempts ordination and any priest who may assist in said ordination.  Could the Vatican be that removed from reality?  Is it possible that the “good old boys” from Vatican City actually believe that an attempted ordination of a woman is on par with the raping of a child? 

Bryan Cones, of U.S. Catholic Magazine, argues that the Vatican’s latest proclamation against the ordination of women, at a time when it should have been sculpting more stringent and forceful penalties for sexual offences by church officials,

conflates two completely separate issues, and in effect, or at least in the minds of many people who will read the news, seems to equate the “attempted ordination of women” with the rape and torture of children.  Quite frankly, it is an outrage to pair the two, a complete injustice to connect the aspirations of some women among the baptized to ordained ministry with what are some of the worst crimes that can be committed against the least of Christ’s members.

Instead of fully concentrating on the issue at hand, sexual abuse, the Vatican seems out of touch and more interested in prohibiting women from gaining any place of authority within the Catholic Church.  Although there are tens of thousands of victims living with the betrayal and trauma of sexual abuse perpetrated by the trusted local parish priest; the Vatican is more concerned with the possible “threat” posed by women who are simply motivated by a deep and abiding love for their religious tradition.  

This nonsensical aligning of the ordination of women with the crimes of sexual abuse, in my mind, illustrates not only that the “good old boys” are out of touch but that the Church desperately needs the presence of women in positions of power to counterbalance the archaic traditions and mindset eating away at the heart of the church.  Victims and advocates demanded accountability and responsible action but in turn were presented with a half hearted effort on the part of the Vatican which is more concerned with maintaining their exclusive all male fraternity.  I predict this latest smokescreen maneuver may stimulate even more support for women desiring ordination.  Stay tuned for updates! 


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