— Rome — The Vatican rolled out a reform of its penal sanctions on Tuesday. At a press conference in the Press Office of the Holy See, senior officials presented the revision of the Church’s universal law regarding punishments for canonical crimes as a major overhaul.
Some expected changes, however, did not materialise. Journalists also raised issues regarding accountability and transparency, which went largely unanswered.
‘Contra sextum‘ still current
The bishops of England and Wales were among those, who had raised significant concerns regarding the rather sterile and technical language by which the Code of Canon Law refers to sexual abuse, especially the abuse of minors.
The English and Welsh bishops had said the language, while part of the Church’s legal tradition, had long since ceased to be “adequate to meet the demands of a contemporary canonical approach to sexual offenses against minors and their equivalent in law.”
Those concerns of the English and Welsh bishops arose from their dealings with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, which produced a scathing report on the Catholic Church’s senior leadership, published late last year.
While much of the IICSA report detailed specific personal and structural failures of leadership, it also criticised the Catholic Church’s universal law. In particular, the report took issue with the traditional description of sexual abuse as the formal legal equivalent of other failures in the realm of sexual morality, such as marital fidelity, all of which are somehow subsumed under the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
“Describing child sexual abuse as the canonical crime of ‘adultery’ is wrong,” the IICSA report stated, “and minimises the criminal nature of abuse inflicted on child victims.” IICSA went on to say: “A canonical crime relating to child sexual abuse should be clearly identified as a crime against the child.”
The bishops agreed, and requested “that consideration be given to a full reformulation of the canonical delict, which explicitly excludes the term, contra sextum, and that the crime of child sexual abuse be “placed in a discrete category of offences against minors, and their equivalents in law, and their dignity as persons made in the image and likeness of God.”
The bishops had received assurances from the president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Archbishop Filippo Iannone O. Carm., that there would be changes to the new book on penal sanctions, which would address their concerns.
“I am pleased to inform you that the concerns you have expressed have already been taken into consideration in the revision of Book VI of the 1983 CIC,” wrote Archbishop Iannone. “In the revised Book VI of the 1983 CIC, crimes against minors are considered under a different title than crimes against the obligations of celibacy on the part of clerics.”
In short, the new book on penal sanctions moved its treatment of that class of crimes to a different place.
“The revised title will be ‘Crimes against the life, dignity and freedom of man’,” Archbishop Iannone told the bishops, “and will include a canon that is specific to crimes against minors.”
In the event, the revised title reads: “Offences Against Human Life, Dignity, and Liberty” and contains a specific canon regarding crimes against minors. So, one of the major changes Archbishop Iannone announced in correspondence the bishops published to their website last month did materialise.
The new law, however, continues to describe such crimes as being “against the sixth commandment” – contra sextum.
“We continue to use the language of [contra sextum] because it is a traditional thing in the Church,” the secretary of the Council for Legislative Texts, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta said in response to a question from Germany’s RT1 network. “Also,” Arrieta continued, “I insist that [the language] is clear enough — it is a law that must be the same on five continents, with very different cultures — and changing it would have created problems — of incomprehension, more than anything else, and of determination of crimes.”
“The [text of the sixth] commandment hasn’t changed,” Archbishop Iannone added — out of frame and amid audible chuckling at his joke from the dais — adding, “and then, when we talk about the commandments, we have another ecclesial, magisterial document of reference, which is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
“So,” Archbishop Iannone went on to say, “on the basis of that, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church reviews [or ‘considers’, Italian recensire] under the 6th commandment, one distinguishes that, which is penally relevant, from that, which is morally relevant.”
That was that.
The Catholic Herald attempted to reach the Archdiocese of Westminster for comment, but calls to archdiocesan news and communications director Alexander des Forges went unanswered and emails went without reply.
Justice must be seen to be done
Earlier in the press conference, Ines San Martin of Crux asked a question regarding transparency as the foundation of confidence in any justice system.
Noting that Pope Francis identifies the repair of scandal as one of the ends for which sanctions are necessary, Crux’s Rome Bureau Chief asked: “How can scandal be repaired if proceedings and outcomes are kept secret?”
She gave the olim Archbishop of Agaña (Guam), Anthony Apuron, as an example.
A Church court tried Apuron on several counts of criminal misbehaviour, finding him guilty of some charges and acquitting him of others. Apuron was punished with sanctions that included privation of office, banishment from the archdiocese he formerly led and loss of some of the rights of his state.
Apron had been accused of both sexual abuse and financial malfeasance, but no one ever learned from any official communications source, what the specific formal charges were, let alone which were the ones of which the court acquitted him and of which the court found him guilty.
“The repair of scandal should be foreseen in the sentence [of the court], itself,” Archbishop Iannone replied. “It is the judge, who, in the measure to which he ascertains the crime and condemns the accused, decides also the modalities by which the condemnation might be rendered public, and then also establishes what might be the proper damages to be paid — which is reparation,” Iannone also said.
“This is one of those things that must be evaluated case-by-case,” Bishop Arrieta added, when his principal had finished. “Because,” Arrieta went on to say, “the damage must be graduated,” i.e. measured on a scale according to degree of gravity. It is, Arrieta said, a question of “proportionality” in imposing sentences.
“[There is] a relationship,” a ratio, “of the punishments, in relation to the damage, the scandal, the gravity of the crime,” Bishop Arrieta said. “Therefore, it must be decided case-by-case,” Arrieta reiterated, “and it must be the authority who imposes the sanction, who determines that.”
“There is no other remedy,” said the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. “There is no other way,” he said.