New Vatican document ‘very disappointing’, says campaigner

Marie Collins says caveats ‘litter’ Catholic Church’s changes to penal code

Pope Francis leads a limited public audience at the  Vatican as he updates the Catholic Church’s criminal code. Photograph:  Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty

Pope Francis leads a limited public audience at the Vatican as he updates the Catholic Church’s criminal code. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty

 

Veteran campaigner Marie Collins has expressed her disappointment at the changes to the Catholic Church’s penal code announced by the Vatican on Tuesday.

The new rules will force bishops to take action action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults or else lose office.

The code explicitly accepts that adults, and not only children, can be victimised by priests, while it also orders penalties for offending laypeople, such as principals or teachers in Catholic-run schools, or parish lay staff.

Priests who engage in sexual acts with anyone – not just a minor or one who lacks the use of reason – can be defrocked if they used “force, threats or abuse of his authority” to engage in sexual acts, the code states.

“It’s a very disappointing document, no zero tolerance, no mandatory reporting,” she told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show.

Marie Collins. File photograph: Aidan Crawley
Marie Collins. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

Ms Collins said she had been hoping that the church’s attitude that children and women were “temptresses” would be “dead and gone”. It was not, she said, that attitude was still there, the Vatican was further behind than any other part of the church.

Parts of the penal code “jumped out” at her, she added. One was that clergy could be punished very severely if they did not report internally to the Church authorities, “but there was no mention whatsoever of them having to report to civil authorities”, so nothing had changed there, she said.

“The problem with it from my view is that there are lists of penalties for various infringements and offences, but nowhere does it say they will be applied or they must be applied.

“The one that really sticks with me is, as far as abusing a child is concerned, it says that a priest can be removed from office, he can be laicised, where the case calls for it, now that wording for me means that it will be left to a judgment call to the individual bishops, how they actually punish a priest, which means you don’t have any consistency or standard across the church.

“One bishop could decide something is serious while another bishop could decide it’s a minor offence. By putting in they can be punished by being laicised. deprived of office, or whatever, where you put in ‘where the case calls for it’ and then don’t define where a case calls for it, you’re leaving it up to the judgment of the individual bishops .

“That’s where it’s always been, there’s no change, it depends on the goodwill of the bishop in the area of the priest.”

One section of the document that upset her, was where it said that a penalty could be diminished if the offence occurred “in the heat of passion” – “that really has no place in a document like this in my view.”

Ms Collins said that caveats “litter” the document. “If you take the headlines out of it, it looks very good, it looks as if the church is moving on, but when you read it in detail, it’s not.”

Section against children

An example that really angered her and would anger many survivors, she said, was in the section against children.

“It says that if a person, a priest, commits an offence against the sixth commandment of the decalogue (thou shall not commit adultery) with a minor — what has committing adultery got to do with child abuse?

“By saying with a minor it’s suggesting that the minor is a willing participant or has somehow given consent.

“That’s just inappropriate and absolutely has no place here.”

Ms Collins pointed out that the bishops in England and Wales had put in a formal request to the Vatican not to use this language as they had used it before.

“They were asked at a press conference in the Vatican yesterday why they used it and they said it was tradition. That just shows where we’re still at with the Vatican.

“To consider abuse against a child as being an offence against the sixth commandment — thou shalt not commit adultery, is offensive to any child who has been abused, any person who has been abused as a minor.”

Another section uses the word provocative, she said, which also upset her. “Provocative? Who judges that? It shows the mindset still, in the case of something against an adult female ‘well she could have been a temptation’ because she was so provocative and they also think that way about children, nothing in the wording there shows any change of attitude.

“It’s all emphasising how you can reduce the penalty — it even says in one section that if there’s been a criminal trial it may be thought that the civil punishment is enough and no further punishment might be necessary.

“Survivors over the decades have been looking for zero tolerance, it was promised and it has not shown up in this.

“There’s no promise that someone will be removed as a priest if they abuse children.”

In Ms Collins view some parts of the document were good, such as extending the abuse to grooming and pornographic images, but there was nothing as far as penalties are concerned, she said. “They’re still not mandatory, they’re still up to an individual to decide whether they should impose them or not.”

“As a survivor of abuse as a child it bothers me that I’m still being lumped in under the ‘shalt not commit adultery’. The fact that priests can be removed from office, but don’t necessarily have to be.”

“I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic and I’m very happy to see someone remorseful about their offence, but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be punished for it.”