Keeping It Simple


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.

The problem is recognised and acknowledged at the highest level within the Vatican. The solution is understood. The code needs to be clearer and the penalties need to be applied with greater consistency throughout the Church. What is needed is clear leadership. Bishops need to be told what to do. Why is this not happening?

It is not a credible position for the Church to take to argue that solutions to the problem are being prioritised when the work of revising one section of the code has already taken six years and is still not completed. I freely admit that I am not a canon lawyer and I am sure that there is a complex legal discussion taking place behind the scenes but to what end. If there is a fire burning, you need to alert the fire brigade. Arguing legal points before you bring forward product is not helpful. It is not communicating a true sense of urgency and that a solution is sincerely sought.

There is real value in keeping it simple. Penalties need to be applied consistently to those who have harmed a child. The Church needs to produce a legal framework that delivers this. It needs to happen now.  If you look at the direction given within scripture on this matter, there is no confusion, no complex legal argument. With respect I think it is time for there to be a refocusing of minds on creating solutions based on the foundational principles that underpin the Church as a whole. Just keep it simple and do it, and let’s try and put out the fire before the whole house burns down.


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