I’ve just read Corden’s Introduction to Canon Law. It’s a book that is well regarded by Catholics. It explains the mindset of Catholic authorities.

In summary, Catholic Canon Law is an astonishing license to abuse for Catholic child sex abusers.

It helps explains the crimes of the De La Salle Brothers and Catholic priests.

From the examples below it is offering little more than a ‘slap on the wrist’ to abusers.

Also, in one case study, it refers to ‘mild’ sexual abuse by a priest to a parishioner. It outlines remedies under Canon Law, but never informing the police.

It’s a current book yet it dismisses abuse with the statement: ‘Even ordained ministers go astray on occasion.’ 

‘On occasion’ ?!

 I don’t think it came up at IIICSA, but it should have as it’s central to abusers’ beliefs.

It’s an Abusers Charter.

De La Salle brothers and priests could easily see it as a ‘nod and a wink’ of tacit encouragement, ‘just don’t get caught’.

If I’m missing something, I would genuinely welcome a Catholic cleric or theologian’s response which I will publish here unedited.

What astonishes me is that no one complains about these truly outrageous ‘laws’ which I know are still quoted today by laity and are thus in current use.

Some quotes follow:

Sanctions in the Church

Book Six of the Code

Even ordained ministers go astray on occasion…. Punishment is a last resort. Pastoral exhortation, kind admonition, familial correction, earnest entreaty, and even firm rebuke should all precede penalties.  C1341.

Even in the application of punishments, leniency and mercy should temper the severity of a canonical penalty… In penal matters make the more benign interpretation.

Some persons may suffer a partial impairment of their … awareness and for them punishment should be reduced.e.g….those who acted in the heat of passion, while drunk, compelled by fear, under provocation.

If the person is truly sorry for the offences and seriously promises to make amends, then he or she cannot be censured. C1347

Another observer clarified the Law further:

The revised Book VI of Cannon Law defies God himself. If a priest is drunk, under the influence of drugs or if the child “tempted” him to excess, then he cannot be removed from the priesthood because his offence is “beyond his control”

As I say, I would welcome a response from a knowledgeable Catholic.

As it stands, to me and other observers it’s a document not so much of wishy-washy out of date rules, but rather an endorsement and an encouragement of pure evil.

Why aren’t Catholics demanding these laws be revised and strengthened, and acknowledged as being subordinate to the laws of the land?

Surely this is an area Catholic Safeguarding should look at?

2 thoughts on “A LICENSE TO ABUSE

  1. Pat, I agree this beggars belief given everything that has happened in the context of the church and abuse. As I am sure you will have seen, the third edition of the Introduction to Canon Law, published in 2019, observes early on that adjustments have been made to the canons of the Code since 1998 and that there will be more to come. It then states “For instance, the section of the code on Sanctions (crimes and punishments) has been under study for several years and will surely be revised. This is partially the result of the catastrophic scandal of the clergy sexual abuse of minors and the inability of the canonical system to deal with it.”

    Note the use of the word “surely”. The writer is anticipating that changes will be made but could also be thought to be expressing disbelief that we are still waiting. Indeed we are.

    I went onto the Vatican’s website to view the relevant sections of the Code of Canon Law. Book VI, Part 1 (“Delicts and Penalties in General”), Title III (“The Subject Liable to Penal Sactions”). This make very depressing reading, consistent with your own observations. For example, Canon 1324 states “The perpetrator of a violation is not exempt from a penalty, but the penalty established by law or precept must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed:
    1/ by a person who had only the imperfect use of reason;
    2/ by a person who lacked the use of reason because of drunkenness or another similar culpable disturbance of mind;

    Book six follows on from five in exactly the way you describe. I do not understand how such gaping loopholes can be allowed to exist.

    Having said all this, I also see that a new version of Book VI of the Code “Sanctions in the Church” is due to enter into force on 8 December 2021. I have scanned through it but cannot immediately see where changes have been made that might impact on the issue of abuse. The wording seems to be identical at first glance but I know that legal language has to be examined forensically in order to extract meaning and applicability. It is easy to be cynical about these things: the application of the Code will be subject to analysis by lawyers and we can only ensure that continuing loopholes and weaknesses in the Code can be brought to light in the Courts.

    What is going on? Well I will revert to cynicism and say that no-one like to lose face and institutions like it even less, and the Catholic Church is an institution beyond all others, setting new standards for glacial change. If the new Book Five provides for the effective handling of abuse cases I doubt we will hear about it until and unless there is new case law. Anything more explicit would imply that the church sees abuse as a problem rooted in the Church and here to stay.

    • Thanks so much, Philip. When I started to look at Canon Law I feared it would be way above my pay grade and I wouldn’t be able to understand the legalese. So I was surprised that the Church was so transparent in its leniency to abusers. I then felt shocked at the contrast to the far from kindly way it dealt with Magdalene Laundries, industrial schools and so on. It’s curious that the Church hasn’t made much effort to whitewash over all these obvious cracks given the times we live in. I suppose it could be down to clericalism, archaic system, belief in the sacred nature of Canon Law, or not losing face as you say. Or supreme confidence that the current crisis will eventually fade away and they can carry on as before. I fear it’s a combination of all of them. There is surely some responsibility on the congregation to challenge these archaic laws. I guess they’re so conditioned to obey without question – the gift of faith – that even today they would never rebel. Thanks for your further insights on Canon Law which I shall absorb

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