Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Vatican PR catastrophe

A Vatican PR catastrophe
A coming revision of Vatican rules yokes together women priests and child abuse
One thing in favour of organised religion is that it could be used to to drive spin doctors insane. Suppose you were charged with PR for the Vatican, and learned of an upcoming revision of the code of Canon Law, which would make plain that child abuse is classified as amongst the gravest offences a priest can commit – that's the good news. Then you read on, and discover that the same revision will add to this list of dreadful offences the attempted ordination of women. Really.

One can see how this happened. The serious offences here being classified are divided into moral and sacramental ones; roughly speaking those which anyone might commit, and those which only a priest can, by virtue of his office. So the moral offences include child abuse, the use of child pornography, and so forth. The sacramental offences are things like violating the seal of the confessional, desecrating the eucharistic Host – and taking part in a ceremony where a woman is ordained. The sacramental offences are only of concern to the Catholic hierarchy, whereas the moral ones are almost certain to be crimes under the civil law as well. But the important thing from the point of a Vatican lawyer is that the most serious of all these cases, of whatever sort, are dealt with in Rome.

Obviously, if what you are trying to do is to maintain a functioning priesthood, then ritual or sacramental crimes are just as capable of destroying it as moral ones. So from that perspective it is makes perfect sense to have a list which combines the two, and I don't think (though I may be wrong) that any official Catholic would maintain that assisting at the ordination service of a woman is morally comparable to child abuse. It's just that both are absolutely incompatible with the Catholic priesthood.

Still, it's a conjunction that really isn't going to play very well in the outside world. A body which had any grasp of public relations would publish the revisions in two batches.

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