Richard Ackland explains about canon law in the Sydney Morning Herald. Why is the story always the same, always a matter of “protection of clergy against whom allegations of paedophilia have been made and giving victims the most incredible run-around”?
Why has the church taken that course of action instead of expelling these creepy “groomers and touchers” and sending them off to the police with a file note listing all the complaints against them?
It is puzzling, until you read Kieran Tapsell’s just published book, Potiphar’s Wife.
Tapsell is a retired Sydney lawyer who also studied for the priesthood, with canon law as his special interest – and it is here that he locates the problem.
You have to go back to the book of Genesis to work out who Potiphar and his wife were. Mrs Potiphar must have been the first recorded person to have accused her victim of rape, after unsuccessfully trying to seduce him.
Or perhaps she is in one of the first stories – told by men – of women who accuse their victims of rape after trying to seduce them. It’s a popular story. Gee I wonder why that might be.
Anyway. The church used to kick rapey priests out and hand them over to the state for punishment.
It was not until 1904 that Pope Pius X created a commission with the job of unifying the canon law code and tossing out unwanted bits. One of the discarded decrees was the one requiring priests who abused children to be sacked and prosecuted.
In 1922, Pope Pius XI issued Crimen Sollicitationis, which imposed the secret of the holy office. Priests who were meddlesome in the worst ways imaginable were to be kept under wraps.
This was subsequently confirmed in 1962. In 1974 the “secret of the holy office” was rebadged as the “pontifical secret”.
It was confirmed again in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. Later Benedict XVI (the German pope) conveniently declared the secrecy provisions extended to allegations of priests having sex with intellectually disabled people.
It must be so convenient to be able to pass your own laws that are the opposite of the real laws, and be able to follow your special laws instead of the real laws, and get away with it.
The response of the Vatican to the report of the Irish commission of investigation into priestly abuse of children, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, was instructive.
Benedict XVI had given the Dublin report “careful study” and was “deeply disturbed” by its contents.
Three months later, the Pope released a pastoral letter in which he laid the blame at the feet of the Irish bishops for not applying “the long established norms of canon law”.
Yet it was those very norms of secrecy that the bishops had sworn to uphold to protect abusing priests.
Certainly, there was no mention in the pastoral letter that the canon law was largely responsible for protecting these abusers. Nor was there any suggestion that this particular part of the code would be abolished, including the bit that makes it almost impossible to dismiss a priest without the priest’s consent.
The church does what it likes.