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Rabu, 02 Juni 2021

The Catholic Church just overhauled its laws on sexual abuse. What effect will this have? - ABC News

Fundamental changes around how the Catholic Church deals with sexual abuse have been cautiously welcomed in Australia as an important step to addressing this crisis within its ranks. 

On Wednesday, the Vatican announced revisions to the Code of Canon Law, with major reforms relating to sexual abuse.

Changes included criminalising grooming; acknowledging that adults, not only children, can be victims, and; extending punishment to lay people employed in church institutions.

The church will also eliminate the discretion that has allowed bishops and other leaders to ignore or cover up abuse.

Pope Francis
The Vatican announced the changes on Wednesday.(

Getty

)

Daryl Higgins, director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University, said his reaction to the changes was "very positive".

"What struck me around these changes to canon law, was it actually goes to the issue of perpetration and what enables perpetrators to get away with this," he said.

"[It addresses] using a position and abusing a position of authority in order to engage in sexual acts with both children and also other adults.

"I was very heartened to see there is explicit recognition of the idea of power being something that individuals use in order to manipulate children and vulnerable people in engaging in sexual acts."

His sentiments were echoed by Beth Doherty, a Catholic author of several books about the church and former communications director for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

"It makes it very clear that in no circumstances is clerical abuse to be tolerated and it will lead to harsher penalties for those who abuse minors.

"It's a really good thing that the church is making a very clear and definitive statement about the evil that is sexual abuse … And it's an example of where the Vatican and Pope Francis are getting better at listening."

Why do these changes matter?

Canon law is the legal structure that governs Catholic Church matters.

The law covers the church's 1.3 billion members around the world.

 "It's the overarching mechanism for the governance arrangements for all of the different Catholic entities — it basically tells them how they need to operate," Professor Higgins said.

Wednesday's revisions have been more than a decade in the making and are set to take effect in December.

The facade of St Patrick's Cathedral at the end of a tree-lined footpath.
The changes could affect Catholics across the world.(

ABC News: Danielle Bonica

)

So what does this mean for Catholics in Australia?

"To be honest, it probably matters less to Australia because we have already undergone the [Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse] and we already have very strong child-safe organisational principles and in some jurisdictions those principles have been translated into law," Professor Higgins said.

"[The announcement] won't change or extend that, but it does align the organisational responsibility of the church and calls out what is clearly identified as a number of factors that could lead to child sexual abuse occurring."

But he said the announcement could have significant impacts on Catholics in many other countries.

"It's very positive that we are now seeing this worldwide move, as very few other countries have had the opportunity to have sexual abuse explored in the same depth that we've had here in Australia.

"However, my cautionary tale is that this has to be supported by grassroots, ground-level change."

A 'long-overdue' move

The changes have also been welcomed outside Catholic circles in Australia.

Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of the Blue Knot Foundation, which works with adults who have experienced complex trauma, said it was "a significant move, a long-overdue move".

"The Vatican is recognising the crime of grooming and also the [effects of] power imbalance," Dr Kezelman said.

Ribbons outside St Patrick's in Ballarat, in support of survivors and victims of child sex abuse.
Ribbons outside St Patrick's in Ballarat, in support of survivors and victims of child sex abuse.(

ABC News: Danielle Bonica

)

"It's very symbolic we're getting these changes from the top.

"It has fallen short of automatically defrocking clergy who are found guilty of some of these crimes, but it is a big step in the right direction."

She said some abuse survivors will welcome the announcement, but there remains a long way to go.

"Survivors are going to be understandably cautious until they see it makes a real difference to the safety of children's and people's lives."

'Frustrating' change on ordination of women

Another of the amendments adds excommunication or laicisation as penalties for when clerics attempt to ordain women.

The church has historically barred the ordination of women, but this spells out the particularly harsh punishments.

Pope Francis.
Some of the changes have been met with a mixed response.(

Getty

)

"This announcement in the same breath as the one about clergy sex abuse still does suggest a church that doesn't quite understand women," Ms Doherty said.

"We already know women can't be ordained and perhaps it's not the best look for the church, having all of this to be bunched together."

She said the change was unsurprising.

"We're being reminded again, despite the failures of mostly men in the church, women are still being put in our box and told 'you're still women and you're still subordinate to men'," Ms Doherty said.

"It's just frustrating."

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2021-06-02 09:23:30Z
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