Father Dave breaks down the newly-revised sections of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law regarding sexual abuse, expanding who can and must be punished for sexual abuses, and other abuses of power within the Church.
Father Dave starts off by defining canon law. “In a civil society, you would have different kinds of laws. There are misdemeanor or penal laws, felonies, etc., with varying punishments for different types of offenses. The Code of Canon Law is similar, but has to do with the human functioning of the Church.”
“It was announced this week that, for the first time, large sections of canon law will be changed with regard to penalties for abuse of power, sexual abuse of minors and adults, and other transgressions by priests or bishops or even members of the laity. In the case of many of the instances of sexual abuse, the offender would potentially be prosecuted by civil law, and also disciplined or penalized within the Church.” What we’re talking about here has to do with the latter.
“There were already in Canon Law well- articulated punishments for the abuse of minors. But now it has been announced that there will be penalties for priests or lay people that are in abusive sexual or power differential situations with other adults. The Church has long considered any sexual relations between a priest and an adult as sinful. But they were automatically considered consensual because they were between adults. This has been changed. In civil law, we have a recognition that not everybody over the age of 18 necessarily consents, and that there are ways in which people can be pressured and abused into a sexual relationship. So this is a recognition of that from the Church.”
Father Dave also points out that bishops now must penalize a priest or a lay person if it has been determined that abuse has happened, as opposed to the previous practice of leaving that decision up to the individual bishop.
An important change in these new provisions and penalties on sexual abuse of an adult is the framing of why it’s wrong. It used to be because it was a violation of the priest’s celibacy vows, which is true and that’s bad. The Church now acknowledges explicitly that [abuse] violates somebody else’s human dignity. Not just that it is wrong that the priest used his power to abuse an adult in an inappropriate relationship. It’s not primarily wrong because it’s a violation of his celibacy; it’s primarily wrong because of the harm done to the other person. The Church has always believed this, but we are now explicitly stating that in Canon Law… It’s long overdue, but thanks be to God that these changes will happen and come into effect on December 8. (Original Air 6-03-21)