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Women's network upset with Vatican's revised laws on clerical sex crimes

Catholic women want the church leadership to start a dialogue to understand women's concerns

Women's network upset with Vatican's revised laws on clerical sex crimes

Pope Francis greets nuns during his weekly general audience at the Vatican on June 2. (Photo: AFP) 

The Vatican’s revised laws meant to check clerical sexual crimes betray a patriarchal mindset and remain ineffective to fight clerical abuse of women, says a global network of Catholic women

The Vatican on June 1 published a heavily revised set of laws to promote the investigation of allegations of clerical sexual abuse, particularly of minors, and to establish punishment for offenders.

“While the changes and clarification regarding abuse against minors are a step in the right direction, the absence of any mention of the abuse of women that is equally widespread is a glaring omission,” said a statement from the Catholic Women’s Council (CWC).
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“Sad that the revised canon law does not explicitly consider the clerical sexual abuse of women as a crime in the Church,” said Virginia Saldanha, the CWC chairperson and a theologian based in Mumbai, India.

The CWC, a global umbrella group of around 50 Catholic networks and organizations, said the changes in laws also show the patriarchal leanings of the church leadership.

The CWC statement expressed “deep pain that the ordination of women is included in the list of offenses against the sacraments. Women’s aspiration to ordination is nothing but a quest for the recognition of women’s equality and dignity on par with men in the Church.”

Clerical sexual violations often include the abuse of adults, particularly women

The Women’s Ordination Conference, which is part of CWC based in the USA, described the revision as “a painful reminder of the Vatican’s patriarchal machinery and its far-reaching attempts to subordinate women.”

Clerical sexual violations often include the abuse of adults, particularly women, because abuse takes place when a person with superior power exploits and takes advantage of a vulnerable person and causes physical and psychological harm to that person, Saldanha explained.

The revised laws say a priest can be dismissed from clerical status if there is proof of committing an offense against “the sixth commandment of the Decalogue with a minor or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason or with one to whom the law recognizes equal protection” (Canon 1398/1-1).

A church law expert who did not want to be named said that all prospective adult women victims are included in the last clause of the law: “whom the law recognizes equal protection.”

The laws say a priest who solicits a penitent to commit a “sin against the sixth commandment” under the pretext of confession should also be punished.

Saldanha said Catholic women often seek priests’ counseling and guidance for issues including marital problems even outside confession. “Is it not a crime if priests solicit women outside confession?"

Besides, “the experience of abuse of women must not be erased or sublimated under the term of equal protection,” she said.

The Church has been dominated by the thoughts, words and decisions of men for centuries

Saldanha, a former secretary of the Asian bishops’ Office of Laity, Family and Women, said CWC members in Europe and Asia are closely involved in cases of abuse of women in the Church and “hence are very sensitive to the issue.”

She wants church officials and all bishops to start a dialogue so that they can “listen to women who feel called to ministry so that women's quest for equality is understood sensitively.”

The CWC statement also called for “a deeper ecclesial debate around the world on the application and interpretation” of the newly announced amendments to the laws.

“The Church has been dominated by the thoughts, words and decisions of men for centuries. It is time that we break out of this culture of male supremacy and return to the equality that Jesus created for women,” Saldanha said.

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