Campaigner criticises 'very disappointing' update to Catholic Church penal code

Campaigner Criticises 'Very Disappointing' Update To Catholic Church Penal Code
St Peter’s Square at the Vatican (Gregorio Borgia/AP), © AP/Press Association Images
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Vivienne Clarke

Veteran campaigner Marie Collins has expressed her disappointment at the changes to the Catholic Church’s penal code announced by the Vatican on Tuesday.

“It's a very disappointing document, no zero tolerance, no mandatory reporting,” she told Newstalk’ Pat Kenny show.


Ms Collins said she had been hoping the church’s attitude that children and women were “temptresses” would be “dead and gone”, however she said that attitude was still there, adding the Vatican was further behind than any other part of the church.

Parts of the penal code “jumped out” at her, one being that clergy could be punished very severely if they did not report internally to the church authorities: “But there was no mention whatsoever of them having to report to civil authorities so nothing has changed there sadly", Ms Collins said.

“The problem with it from my view is that there are lists of penalties for various infringements and offences, but nowhere does it say they will be applied, or they must be applied.

“The one that really sticks with me is, as far as where abusing a child is concerned, is it says that a priest can be removed from office, he can be laicised, where the case calls for it. Now that wording for me means that it will be left to a judgement call to the individual bishops, how they actually punish a priest, which means you don't have any consistency or standard across the church," Ms Collins added.


“One bishop could decide something is serious while another bishop could decide it's a minor offence. By putting in they can be punished by being laicised, deprived of office, or whatever, where you put in 'where the case calls for it' and then don't define where a case calls for it, you're leaving it up to the judgement of the individual bishops and that's where it's always been, there's no change, it depends on the goodwill of the bishop in the area of the priest,” Ms Collins said.

'Heat of passion'

One section of the document, which Ms Collins said upset here was where a penalty could be diminished if the offence occurred 'in the heat of passion' - “That really has no place in a document like this in my view,” she said.

Ms Collins said caveats “litter” the document: “If you take the headlines out of it, it looks very good, it looks as if the church is moving on, but when you read it in detail, it's not.”

She said many survivors would be angered by the section regarding children, in which it says “if a person, a priest, commits an offence against the sixth commandment of the decalogue with a minor - the sixth commandment is 'thou shalt not commit adultery' and it's saying that if a priest commits an offence against the sixth commandment with a minor, what has committing adultery got to do with child abuse?


"By saying with a minor it's suggesting that the minor is a willing participant or has somehow given consent - to commit an offence, to commit adultery under the heading of adultery with a minor - that's just inappropriate and absolutely has no place here," she said.

Ms Collins pointed out that the bishops in England and Wales had put in a formal request to the Vatican not to use this language as they had used it before.

“They were asked at a press conference in the Vatican yesterday why they used it, and they said it was tradition. That just shows where we're still at with the Vatican.

“To consider abuse against a child as being an offence against the sixth commandment - thou shalt not commit adultery, is offensive to any child who has been abused, any person who has been abused as a minor, yet it’s still in there, that makes me very angry.



Ms Collins also raised concerns regarding the use of the work provocative in another section of the code.

“Provocative? Who judges that? It shows the mindset still, in the case of something against an adult female 'well she could have been a temptation' because she was so provocative, and they also think that way about children, nothing in the wording there shows any change of attitude.

“It's all emphasising how you can reduce the penalty - it even says in one section that if there's been a criminal trial it may be thought that the civil punishment is enough and no further punishment might be necessary.

“Survivors over the decades have been looking for zero tolerance and that is that any priest or religious that abuses a child no longer remains a priest and there was a summit some years ago in Rome with all the bishops from around the world and zero tolerance was promised, and it has not shown up in this.


“There's no promise that someone will be removed as a priest if they abuse children,” she said.


In Ms Collins' view, some parts of the document were good, such as extending the abuse to grooming and pornographic images, but there was nothing as far as penalties are concerned, she said.

“They're still not mandatory, they're still up to an individual to decide whether they should impose them or not. In some cases penalties don't have to be made public and that if someone gets a remission of their penalty that doesn't have to be made public either.”

Ms Collins said she did not think the church would make any changes to the document: “In the Catholic Church, Canon law is the ultimate ‘go to’ document - it is the rule, it is an absolute, it won't be tinkered with around the edges, this is set down now for many years to come.

“As a survivor of abuse as a child, it bothers me that I'm still being lumped in under the ‘shalt not commit adultery’. The fact that priests can be removed from office, but don't necessarily have to be.

"That the judgement of whether a case is serious or not is left down to the local bishop and the fact that right the way through it constantly talks about remitting the offence even reducing the penalty if the religious or the priest is remorseful.

“I'm a Christian, I'm a Catholic, and I'm very happy to see someone remorseful about their offence, but it doesn't mean they don't deserve to be punished for it," Ms Collins said,

"And yet that is still here in this, it seems they haven't learned anything - they've learned enough to be able to add more offences and to expand what is covered, but as far as penalties are concerned they have pulled back from the brink of making the changes that were so necessary, and it's very disappointing and the attitudinal things that are still there, like if someone is provocative - it's still looking at the female or the child as tempting the religious,” she added.

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