The latest document from the Vatican - Normae de Gravioribus Delictis - has caused worldwide outrage after it prescribed automatic excommunication for anyone found to be involved in the ordination of women.
The document provides for greater penalties to those who “attempted” women’s ordination than to clerics who abused children, and has come in for heavy criticism both from womens’ advocacy groups and from loyal Catholics.
The document’s title translates as ‘Norms of the Most Serious Crimes’, was allegedly intended to soften the Church’s growing negative PR image and implement some of the changes which victims’ and survivors’ groups.
Some of the less controversial amendments to Canon Law made by the document include allowing non-clergy to be involved in Canon Law trials and doubling of the statute of limitations period in respect of child sexual abuse allegations or those that will speed up the processing of child abuse investigations within the church.
The new document makes several overhauls to the Canon Law which is the governing law of the Roman Catholic Church.
Another important change affected by the document was that the highest ranking figures in the Church would now be subject to the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A child abusing priest can now be withdrawn without trial, and the sexual abuse of "developmentally disabled" adults by priests has been given the same legal status as child sexual abuse.
Despite all these positive developments, though, it seems certain that they will be overshadowed by the women ordination rules.
The offending provision reads:
". . . both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. 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, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition."
In a strongly worded article in today’s Irish Times, Dr Mary Condren of the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies in Trinity College Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s foremost university, said that such “misogynist” attitudes by the Church were legitimizing violence and discrimination worldwide and called for an end to the Church’s use of Gospel to justify discrimination, as she saw it.