The Vatican Finally Recognizes the Abuse of Adults and Abuse Perpetrated by Lay Employees; SNAP responds.
After too many years of discussion and assessments, the Vatican has finally revised canon law in order to recognize the abuse of adults and abuse perpetrated by lay employees. Known as Libri VI Codicis Iuris Canonici (Book VI of the Code of Canon Law), the original penal law was lacking. Previous versions had too much ambiguity and used statements like 'could be punished.' There was always too much left for the discretion of the bishop and other church officials.
We feel this is an important step forward in acknowledging the true scope of abuse within the Catholic Church. It is baffling that it took 14 years for the Vatican to recognize abuse as a crime, but we believe it is better late than never in this situation. We hope that this new change will embolden seminarians, nuns, and other adults who were abused within the Church but had their complaints ignored or minimized in the past.
We know that lay people abuse children and vulnerable adults just like priests, nuns, and other clergy, and we are glad that the Vatican recognizes this. We hope that this change in law will result in Catholic officials around the country immediately updating their lists of accused to include both the names of lay abusers and the names of abusers who have preyed on vulnerable adults. A current example is that of Msgr. Mauricio West in the Diocese of Charlotte -- Msgr. West has had multiple claims of abuse against him deemed "credible" by Church authorities, yet they refuse to list him or warn communities about him because Msgr. West preyed on young adults. Now that the Vatican has weighed in on the importance of recognizing these victims, prelates like Bishop Peter Jugis must fall in line.
We hope that the Catholic officials take this change seriously and implement changes immediately. The changes announced by the Vatican are only as good as their enforcement, and we hope that Pope Francis and his fellow Church leaders will act swiftly to punish prelates who refuse to recognize these new updates and take appropriate steps to inform communities about abusers and make changes that will better protect vulnerable adults within the Church’s care. History has shown us that the Catholic Church should not police itself and so we hope that parents, parishioners, and the public will help ensure that those in charge are following these new canon laws and doing the right thing for all abuse victims, regardless of the age at which they were abused or the employment status of their abuser.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)