The Catholic Church on Thursday revised its in-house rules on sex abuse cases, extending the statute of limitations for such crimes from 10 to 20 years past the victim's 18th birthday and speeding up the excommunication process for pedophile priests. But, curiously, the amended set of ecclesiastical laws also declares that any priest caught ordaining women will be designated as having committed a "grave crime," the same phrase used to describe the abuse of children.
Liberal Catholics pushing for church reform were shocked by the decree. "I find it appalling," Pat Brown, spokeswoman for British organization Catholic Women's Ordination, told AOL News. "To mention us in the same breath as pedophiles is disgusting and hugely insulting to women and the victims of pedophilia. Announcements like this really emphasize the need to keep campaigning for change in the church."
Brown says that her activist group will protest the ruling by holding public prayer vigils during Pope Benedict XVI's September visit to the U.K., and has taken out advertisements on the side of London buses emblazoned with the slogan "Ordain Women Now!"
As Politics Daily noted last week, U.S. Catholic magazine Managing Editor Bryan Cones had criticized the new ruling before it was issued, calling it "a complete injustice to connect the aspirations of some women among the baptized to ordained ministry with what are some of the worst crimes that can be committed against the least of Christ's members."
But church traditionalists claim that even though the issue of women's ordination is dealt with in the same document as sex abuse, that doesn't mean the church views the two sins as ethically equivalent. "There are two types of 'delicta graviora': those concerning the celebration of the sacraments, and those concerning morals," said Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation. "The two types are essentially different, and their gravity is on different levels."
He added that the revised instructions prove the church is dedicated to rooting out abusers within the priesthood. "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," said Scicluna.
As well as allowing victims a longer period to raise alleged sex crimes with the church, the new laws rule that any priest found guilty of molesting a mentally disabled adult will be treated as if the victim was a minor. Bishops can also now defrock clerics without ecclesiastical trials where evidence of sexual abuse is clear -- a move that will quicken the removal of pedophile priests.
However, for anti-abuse campaigners, the new laws don't go far enough, as bishops are still not required to report abuse to local law enforcement.
"The first thing the church should be doing is reporting crimes to civil authorities," Andrew Madden, a former Dublin altar boy who initiated the first public lawsuit against the church in Ireland in 1995, told The Associated Press. "That's far, 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."
And outspoken U.S. charity the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement slamming the new rules, saying they could be "summed up in three words: missing the boat."