For the most part, Vatican sources said, the revisions consolidate existing practice rather than marking a dramatic new approach. Unveiled on July 15, the changes include:
- Speeding up the process of "laicization," or formal removal from the priesthood;
- Allowing laity to serve as judges and lawyers on church tribunals in sex abuse cases, and waiving the requirement of a doctorate in canon law;
- Extending the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases from ten to twenty years, with the possibility still in force to waive it altogether on a case-by-case basis;
- Adding the acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography as a "grave crime" under church law;
- Specifying that the same penalties for the sexual abuse of minors also apply to developmentally disabled adults;
- Clarifying that even "cardinals, patriarchs, legates of the Apostolic See and bishops" are subject to the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal office, on matters related to sexual abuse.
From Allen, again:
Notice that the addition of attempted female ordination to those things which can be judged by the CDF and which incur automatic excommunication is merely a ratification of the previous decree which said much the same thing. This is not some new, uncharted territory.
Unrelated to the sexual abuse crisis, the revisions also add several other offenses to the list of "grave crimes" subject to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and thus to the expedited penalties the congregation can hand out). They include crimes against the faith, such as heresy, apostasy and schism; recording or broadcast of the sacrament of confession; and the attempted ordination of women.
The last point ratifies a December 2007 decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stipulated that anyone attempting to ordain a woman, as well as women who claim ordination, are subject to excommunication. That decree appeared in the wake of several events around the world in which organizers claimed to ordain women priests in defiance of church authorities.
That didn't stop the news media from seizing on the female ordination thing and send forth the usual headlines, screaming things like:
--Vatican declares that ordaining women is just like pedophilia
--Amid scandal, Vatican shows its true priority is the oppression of women
--Secret Vatican document punishes women priests while going easy on child abusers
or similar nonsense (note: no real headlines were copied above, but hey--these are close enough to the ones actually out there).
Truth is, the secular media, with all its zeal to punish clerical abusers (which is admirable in principle if not always in practice), doesn't really care if some bishops disobey the legitimate Church authority in order to attempt to ordain women. The secular media approves of women priests; it's something that seems modern and enlightened and full of equality and all those things. The idea of punishing attempted female ordination as you would clerical sexual abuse is abhorrent to them.
But Catholics can see in both acts a grave betrayal. There is, arguably, no greater betrayal than that of clerical sexual abuse; but the bishops who moved abuser-priests around from diocese to diocese were betraying their flock in much the same way that the bishops who try to ordain women are doing.
In both cases, bishops, who should be shepherds of their people, knowingly sent wolves among the sheep. The wolf who is a priest-predator attacks the souls of innocent children, their parents, and others caught up in the truly ghoulish nightmare he creates; but a woman insisting she is really a "Catholic priest" and pretending to say Mass, hear confessions, celebrate marriages etc. is also a predator--she leaves her followers on the brink of spiritual starvation as she commits her acts of fraud.
We can argue that the he-wolves are much, much worse than the she-wolves, in terms of the harm they have done, and that would be a fair argument, I think. But we can't really argue that the she-wolves aren't wolves at all, but shepherds themselves, except for their lack of obedience to the Church Christ founded; such an argument won't hold water. And unless we're really going to insist that one kind of wolf is all right to be sent among the sheep, I think we're going to have to agree that the Vatican is correct to attempt to root out both from among the hapless flock.
UPDATE: Yes, I know that the proper Catholic thing is to bash the Vatican PR department for releasing both of these announcements together. I'm not going to go there, but not out of some misguided "clericalism" that would have me defend Vatican PR--we know how clunky it can be.
But according to the summary attached to Allen's article at the National Catholic Reporter (not a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy), the fact that this bit concerning women's ordination was going to be part of this announcement was known by the media for some time. In other words, no surprise--but look at how the media is acting shocked, shocked! that this announcement was included with the other. The rush to spin this story as, "Well, okay, good news, but how incredibly ham-handed of Vatican PR," is merely evidence that the secular media is way too good at making Catholic writers jump through hoops to put some kind of "approved" spin on what is, after all, good news.