By John Thavis | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has revised its procedures for handling priestly sex abuse cases, streamlining disciplinary measures, extending the statute of limitations and defining child pornography as an act of sexual abuse of a minor.
Vatican officials said the changes allow the Church to deal with such abuse more rapidly and effectively, often through dismissal of the offending cleric from the priesthood.
As expected, the Vatican also updated its list of the "more grave crimes" against Church law, called "delicta graviora," including for the first time the "attempted sacred ordination of a woman." In such an act, it said, the cleric and the woman involved are automatically excommunicated, and the cleric can also be dismissed from the priesthood.
Vatican officials emphasized that simply because women's ordination was treated in the same document as priestly sex abuse did not mean the two acts were somehow equivalent in the eyes of the Church.
"There are two types of 'delicta graviora': those concerning the celebration of the sacraments, and those concerning morals. The two types are essentially different and their gravity is on different levels," said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, an official of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
Sexual abuse of a minor by a priest was added to the classification of "delicta graviora" in 2001, and at that time the Vatican established norms to govern the handling of such cases, which were reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The norms affect how church law treats sex abuse cases; civil law deals with the crime separately.
The latest revisions, approved by Pope Benedict XVI May 21 and released July 15, for the most part codify practices that have been implemented through special permissions granted over the last nine years and make them part of universal law.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said publication of the revisions "makes a great contribution to the clarity and certainty of law in this field, a field in which the church is today strongly committed to proceeding with rigor and transparency."
Continue reading about the new norms on the St. Louis Review website »