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Head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has moved to do what victims and their loved ones have been asking for years. He has presided over changes of the Canon Law to definitively criminalise sexual abuse, bringing what is said to be an overhaul of the criminal code not seen in almost 40 years. Allegations of sexual offenses by leaders in the Catholic Church, that is male dominated, have reverberated throughout the world, causing embarrassment, and bringing into disrepute the Faith.
There have been stories told of men in robes, taking sexual advantage of their young wards and betraying the confidence their parents entrusted in what are said to be “men of the cloth.” Not only have there been stories of boys being sexually violated from childhood, but some have remained emotionally scarred into adulthood, struggling to navigate the pains of their experiences. These are two sins the Church will have to do penitence for.
The nuns, rather than be protected, have not been spared similar violation and abuse by men of the cloth. There are also the gory stories of young bones buried within some of the church compound, suggesting the nuns preferred to either abort their babies or practice infanticide. They too are affected by those who have taken advantage of them. These stories remain an ugly irony of the Church that preaches against abortion. But the actions also suggest the extent to which some felt they had to go to project the veil of purity to protect their abusers and the image of the faith.
All was and is not well in the Church. Pope Francis’ attempts at confronting these unsettling stories, through various actions, and now with the criminalisation of sexual abuse suggest acknowledgement of the times. Where sexual abuse is a crime in society, for the Vatican, which is a state unto itself to decide it will no longer ignore the stories or deny them is good for religion. The Catholic Church is the foundation of modern Christianity. Where the Holy Book speaks about Christians leading by example it is refreshing news Pope Francis is seeking to do exactly this.
The new rules will go into effect on December 8th. Under the new law priests would lose his priesthood should they use their authority, force or threat to engage in sexual misconduct; administrators of the church would be punished for grooming minors or vulnerable adults to engage in pornography; etc. These rules are confirming the Pope has accepted the Church has denigrated to a cesspool of sexual violations and abuses of the vulnerable when the Church ought to be the embodiment of probity, the personification of The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.
The Church cannot undo the pains and violations inflicted on the abused, emotional or otherwise. What the changing of the Cannon Law would suggest is an effort to correct previous wrongdoings by holding accountable any who dare try. At the same time, it would be interesting to see how the Church would facilitate the violated coming forward with their stories, apart from going to the press. Secrecy has been the hallmark of the Church but it will have to acknowledge the necessity of facilitating complaints and victims not having to carry the burden of guilt, purgatory, and the fear of speaking out and seeking justice.