Vatican labels the ordination of women a 'grave crime' to be dealt with in the same way as sex abuse
Making a woman a priest is as sinful as abusing a child, the Roman Catholic Church declared yesterday.
New religious rules published by the Vatican set both sins at the same level of gravity and recommended the same punishment for guilty priests.
Church officials in Rome insisted that the new version of Canon Law showed it was ‘very, very serious in its commitment to promote safe environments’.
But it had the appearance of an own goal by Pope Benedict XVI in his attempt to cool the scandal over Catholic cover-ups of child abuse by paedophile priests.
Victims’ groups protested that criminal offences against children should be given far greater weight than doctrinal arguments over whether women can be ordained.
The Vatican move also appeared badly-timed as it followed the debate in the Church of England over appointing women bishops that won worldwide publicity at the weekend.
The new rules mean that priests can be defrocked or excommunicated for paedophile offences, sexual abuse of mentally handicapped adults or attempting to ordain women.
Acquiring, possessing or distributing child pornography will be regarded as an offence on the same level as physical abuse of children.
Erring priests will be punished by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department once known as the Inquisition.
In the past a complex system of church tribunals would take months or even years to deal with a paedophile priest. However, from today priests will be dealt with summarily by church leaders.
Doctrinal official Monsignor Charles Scicluna said: ‘This gives a signal that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse.’
But including the ordination of women in the same category of religious crime suggested that the Vatican may still have underestimated the impact of recent abuse scandals.
Pope Benedict was drawn personally into the sex abuse row in March when he was accused of intervening, while a Vatican official in the 1990s, to protect an American paedophile priest from being unfrocked.
The ordination of women priests is seen as a major offence by few outside the Roman Catholic hierarchy and many Catholic worshippers believe their church’s ban is wrong.
But the Vatican, together with the Catholic wing of the Church of England, believes that since Christ chose no women disciples, it is wrong for women to assume leadership in the Church.
Campaigners for abuse victims were heavily critical of the new rules.
Andrew Madden, a former Dublin altar boy who took the Church to court in Ireland during the 1990s, said: ‘The first thing the Church should be doing is reporting crimes to civil authorities.
‘That’s far more important than deciding whether a criminal priest should be defrocked or not. The Church’s internal rules are no more important than the rules of your local golf club.’
Barbara Dorris, of the Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the new rules ‘can be summed up in three words: missing the boat’.
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