Today the Vatican announced updates to the laws of the Catholic Church, including language that now recognizes the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy and lay employees alike as “crimes against the life, dignity, and the freedom of man.” Many may be tempted to hail this as a step forward from the previous iteration of Church Law (last updated in 1983), but any leader can make promises like this. The issue here, as it has always been with grand gestures from the Vatican, is follow-through. And on that score the Church hierarchy has been, and continues to be, woefully weak.
Here, context is everything. The Vatican, bowing under the pressures of increasing scrutiny for sexual and financial abuses reported in record numbers worldwide, is changing some of its definitions of its own law – the law it uses to police itself. Make no mistake that these changes in Canon Law are designed to still protect the Catholic Church above all else. Practically speaking, child sexual abuse is still recognized as a violation of the sixth commandment (adultery) and celibacy to be handled in-house, not as a crime that should be reported to law enforcement. But it is a crime and it should be reported to law enforcement no matter where or when it happens.
This kind of language “update” is a flashy firework of superficial progressivism. It centers the offending priest (and by extension, the Church), rather than the child the priest has abused. And, this continuous fixation on perpetrators deliberately obscures the enablers within the hierarchy. These new definitions—without serious and revolutionary reinforcement—are just more empty promises under which the Pope, the Vatican, and their subordinate hierarchs will remain constant in their clericalism and dedication to self-preservation and reputation above all else.