VATICAN CITY, JULY 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The US bishops are welcoming the Vatican’s recent revision of the Church’s “more grave crimes” as a step forward in addressing the sex abuse scandal.
Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Protection of Children and Young People, affirmed this Thursday in a statement issued after the Holy See published the revisions to the 2001 apostolic letter “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” which outline the norms for addressing cases of serious offenses.
Among the norms dealing with sexual abuse of minors, the new document doubles the statute of limitations, extending it from 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday to 20 years. Exceptions even for the 20-year limitation can be made on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions to the 10-year limit had already been the practice.
Acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography has also been included in the list of the “more grave crimes” to be handled by the doctrinal congregation. Additionally, sexual crimes perpetrated against mentally disabled adults will be treated the same as crimes against minors.
“The Vatican action is a welcome step forward as we deal with the terrible crime and sin of sexual abuse by a cleric,” said Bishop Cupich. “The seriousness with which the Church views sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric cannot be understated.
“By putting child sexual abuse by clergy in the same context as the safeguarding of the sacraments, the Church is making it clear that such misconduct violates the core values of our faith and worship.”
The bishop said that with the revision, the Vatican is sending the message that “the abuse of the mentally impaired, no matter what the person’s age, is horrific,” and that the “abuse of someone who cannot defend himself or herself is craven, cowardly behavior.”
“Welcome, too,” he continued, “is the recognition that the crime of child pornography damages not just those who pursue it, but any child degraded in the making of it. Child pornography is a degradation of any child of God. A priest’s involvement with it is particularly offensive.”
Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland, and co-chair of the Irish bishops’ Council for Communications, said in a statement that the revision “strengthens parts of the Church’s law and covers all of the breaches of law considered to be exceptionally serious. I very much welcome this comprehensive and updated publication which will help us deal with the very serious crime and sin of child sexual abuse.”
The bishop said he welcomed in particular the inclusion of the abuse of “vulnerable adults, including those with special needs of any age. By placing this abuse on a par with the abuse of children and young people, the Church wishes to highlight the dignity of those with special needs and its desire to keep them safe.”
The Irish prelate affirmed that the document is not the conclusion of its efforts to deal with sexual abuse, but “rather it reflects the Holy See’s ongoing commitment to addressing the very serious issue of child abuse.”
Msgr. Felix Gmür, secretary-general of the Swiss episcopal conference, calls the Vatican publication “coherent.”
In addition to also welcoming the inclusion of abuse of vulnerable adults and the use of child pornography to the list of “more grave crimes,” the priest praised the Vatican document for “measures to be applied in the most rapid and efficacious manner.”
“Sexual violence is a crime,” he added, “and sexual violence against a child is a truly ignominious crime. In the Church, there is no place for these infamies.”