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Vatican introduces new canon laws on "most serious crimes"

The Church’s new laws for punishing clerical sex abusers are met with disappointment and disbelief.

Pope Benedict. Photo: PA

THE VATICAN has issued a new set of canon laws in response to worldwide incidents of clerical child abuse.

Priests who abuse children or mentally disabled people or access child pornography are targeted by the guidelines.The statute of limitations was also increased to 20 years from ten, from the victim’s 18th birthday.

However, many victims say that the Vatican has not gone far enough: The new laws do not force priests to report sexual abuse to police, do not impose sanctions for priests who help to cover up abuse, and do not unequivocally expel clerics who are found guilty of abuse.

Apart from the bitter disappointment of some victims who had hoped the Church would deliver on its promise to introduce stern new measures to fight abuse, the laws have also provoked outrage from women’s groups.

The new canon laws describe the attempted ordination of women as a “grave crime” and subjects it to the same procedures and punishments outlined for sex abuse. The apparent implication that child rape is equivalent to women joining the priesthood has provoked outrage and incredulity.

The Vatican says that updating the law on both issues at the same time did not mean they believed they were equivalent.

Under the new rules, punishment for ordaining a woman consists of immediate excommunication for the woman and priest in question. On the other hand, priests found guilty of sexually abusing children are not automatically defrocked.

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