Fergus Finlay Irish Examiner
I don’t know whether he lacks the will or the courage, or whether he is incapable of asserting real and moral authority. I don’t know whether he has been undermined from within, or is just an old man incapable of seeing anything resembling a bigger picture.
I don’t know whether he or the people around him still regard the institution as more important than the people it is supposed to serve, but sometimes abuses. Or maybe it’s just — and I don’t know the answer to this either — he and those around him think we’re all fools.
Whatever the answer to those questions, I don’t believe it is possible to read the most recent changes to canon law — the law of the Catholic Church — without feeling utterly let down by Pope Francis. The Pope who promised so much, but has changed as little as possible.
I’m not a Catholic, but I know the importance of the Church, and its power for good (or evil) in the world. Reading the Pope’s pronouncements this past week is like feeling conned and cheated by someone for whom you had a genuine feeling of respect.
When the changes in canon law were announced last week, the RTÉ News website headlined it “Pope updates canon law to address paedophilia by priests”. Theused language such as “sweeping reform” and “the most extensive revision in four decades”.
And that was just here. “Pope widens Church law to target sexual abuse of adults by priests and laity,” said. The BBC had “Vatican laws changed to toughen sexual abuse punishment”.
Mission accomplished, you might say. At last, the Catholic Church is getting to grips with its past. Everyone interested in reporting on the story was told that this was the result of years of intensive work — 11 years in the preparation, inputs from senior lawyers including experts in criminal law. It could hardly be more thorough, more far-reaching, more exhaustive, more reforming.
And then you read it, and you realise it’s codswallop.
The world that takes child abuse seriously introduced mandatory reporting years ago. Here in Ireland — and despite our history we weren’t the quickest — the law on mandatory reporting places special responsibilities on people who have the experience and expertise to help to protect children from harm. We have laws that explicitly recognise different kinds of abuse as crimes. Many of us in Ireland had to campaign to get the legislation, called Children First, into place. But it’s there now, and it’s strong.
These much-vaunted changes in canon law, on the other hand, can’t bring themselves to use words such as mandatory reporting at all. Or even the words child abuse. The document I read, which runs to 21 pages and has about 8,000 words, does not even mention the word ‘child’ — except in one bit where it declares it an offence for a family to allow its children to be baptised in a non-Catholic religion.