One of these things is not like the others
Even when the Vatican does the right thing in connection with sexual abuse, it does so in a way that undermines its credibility. That's the case with revisions in church law strengthening discipline for priests who abuse minors. Article 6 of new "Substantive Norms" published this week extends to 20 years the statute of limitations for accusations of abuse before church tribunals and adds possession of child pornography and the abuse of mentally disabled adults to a list of "more grave delicts against morals."
But before you get to Article 6, there is Article 5, which deals with another "grave delict" -- the attempt to ordain a woman as a priest, an offense that can lead to excommunication. (Other articles deal with offenses such as desecrating the Eucharist and violating the seal of the confessional.) A reader can be excused for thinking that the church sees a moral equivalence between ordaining women and abusing a child.
To be fair, that interpretation was rejected by the Vatican's internal prosecutor, who said that "sexual abuse and pornography are more grave dealings, they are an egregious violation of moral law. Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level." And it is true that sexual offenses are described as "grave delicts against morals," while ordaining women is simply a "grave delict." But that fine print is easy to overlook.
Poor PR is the least of the Vatican's derelictions in responding to the sex-abuse scandal. But appearances do matter, and including sexual abuse and the ordination of women in the same document is a public-relations disaster.
-- Michael McGough
Photo: Vatican doctrinal official Monsignor Charles Scicluna, outlining new rules on the handling of abuse cases. Credit: Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty Images