The Latin phrase “graviora delicta” translates into English as “exceptionally serious crimes.” On Thursday, July 15, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican council that Pope Benedict XVI headed while he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued Modifications Made In The Normae De Gravioribus Delictis. I have been trying, without much success, to wrap my brain around it.
The main emphasis of the document is the revision of Church procedure and policy on the treatment of pedophile priests, an issue that just will not go away or show signs of improving. The statute of limitations has been doubled, to 20 years from 10. Also, the priest can be defrocked without a Church trial. On the other hand, the document does not mandate the criminal prosecution of pedophiles or the punishment of bishops who cover up the crimes.
The document added pedophilia (or, in the words of the Church, “the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years” (the Catholic version of the Sixth Commandment is, “You shall not commit adultery”), in 2001, to other serious crimes, such as apostasy, heresy, and profaning the Eucharist.
Oh, and ordaining women.
That’s where I’m having some difficulty with the brain-yoga. I’ve got a couple of possible explanations, and lots of questions, none of which are comforting or particularly satisfying.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, emphasized the changes to the pedophilia policies, the “long journey” of reform, and the need to respect “the civil laws of their respective countries” (including countries such as India, where a priest accused of abusing young girls in the US fled home to and took a job in a local parish).
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, in a Washington Post blog, “The logic of Vatican’s linking sex abuse, women’s ordination,” explains that “no one in the Vatican is saying that the attempted ordination of women does the same kind of damage as the horrific harm sexual abuse inflicts on a minor or a person who is vulnerable.” Instead, he explains, the document is about clarifying church court authority and procedure. Some of Fr. Zulsdorf’s readers believe that ordaining women is worse that pedophilia.
True, Article 5 does state, “The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. . . .” But it goes on to say, “both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination.” Not much about tribunals or courts there.
Now, here’s where I’m having more difficulty again: “If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. . . , he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.” It begs the question – are women who are not subject to the Congregation condemned by this statement? Is the implication that ANY woman, ordained in any faith, has committed an “exceptionally serious crime?” I don’t know and I have not seen this addressed, yet.
Certainly women like the three female Catholic priests in St. Louis are covered by the edict. But what about others? What about Kathleen, Tamara, Patty, and Sharon, all female clergy that I have known. In no way do I feel that these women are anything but inspired and answering the call they heard in their lives.
Assuming that the answer is yes and that the inclusion of women’s ordination is deliberate (I doubt that it was by accident):
1) The statement is a message to Catholics, sisters, and clergy that there are dire consequences coming for being involved with actual ordinations or groups like FutureChurch or The Women’s Ordination Conference. It may especially be a warning to US nuns who are already under investigation.
2) It may be a message to members of the laity who are influenced by statements from the Vatican that, yes, indeed, ordaining women is equivalent to pedophilia. This may carry special weight in countries where church authority figures still carry a lot of weight and women are still in more subservient positions.
3) It may be a message to more liberal US Catholics: “Watch what you ask for! Ordaining women is just as bad as what you believe it will solve: pedophilia.”
Maybe we’re all reading too much into it. Maybe it is just a work in progress and we’ll have to wait and see what the result of the reforms is. I don’t know – but it’s unsettling.