Friday, April 23, 2010

A Law Unto Itself

These few words are proving to be an exceedingly odious piece of prose:

Civil laws to which the law of the Church yields are to be observed in canon law with the same effects, insofar as they are not contrary to divine law and unless canon law provides otherwise.

This is Canon 22 from the ecclesiastical laws in the Code of Canon Law. The Code of Canon Law is the rulebook by which the Roman Catholic Church conducts itself. Canon 22 is exceptionally problematic because it gives the Church the right to tell civil authorities to mind their own business. In other words, if the Roman Catholic Church feels that a piece of civil legislation, i.e. the rules that a we in a civil democracy live by, runs contrary to divine law then they are allowed, under the canon to invoke divine law and ignore the civil law.

What civil laws might be deemed less important than divine law? How about pedophilia, ephebofillia, sexual predation, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation to name a few.

It should come as no surprise to anybody that there is a history of abuse - even an apocryphal one - associated with the Catholic Church. The stereotype of priests abusing little boys has been played out on television, movies, books and magazines; in both fiction and non-fiction. However, for me this unspeakable history took a new turn with the revelations of Patrick Wall, former Benedictine Monk.

In his interview on The Current (you can listen to part of it here or download the podcast from iTunes) Patrick chronicles his work as a "fixer", sent by the church to clean up after priests were caught abusing their parishioners; especially minors. He quit the church and turned his back on the only life he'd ever wanted because of the Vatican's refusal to permanently deal with abusive priests. The Vatican, according to Wall, would move priests from parish to parish but never strip them of their vestments or have the excommunicated. And, when the authorities do attempt to get involved in these cases, the Church invokes Canon 22; what I've come to term the "go screw yourself" clause. It's like they have a get out of jail free card.

Wall now works as a legal consultant for sexual abuse victims.

This was merely an interesting, albeit sickening discussion topic for me until I heard about the Saturday night service at one of the two Roman Catholic Churches in town. As reported to me by a friend who was there last week, the priest's message last Saturday evening was essentially "Let's not blow this out of proportion." My friend was so angry she left before the service had ended.

Get this straight, the Catholic Church is being publicly vilified, former Church administrators are coming out to talk about the scandal and the history. The Church, according to Patrick Wall, has centuries of secret documents locked in a vault in Rome (Wall claims to have seen them) documenting the priests and their behaviour. Victims of abuse are finally finding the courage to speak openly about what happened to them. And here in Red Deer, in 2010, in a community that has already been through a residential school tragedy, we have a Catholic priest who is preaching to his congregation "Let's not blow this out of proportion."

How on earth does this antiquated instution keep a following of right-thinking, morally-upstanding, intelligent people?

As for Canon 22, I need to get me one of those. It would make all the annoyances of life (filing taxes, dealing with parking tickets...) so much easier. "Sorry, I'm invoking my personal Canon 22, my authority comes from Yoda. He trumps your silly little laws."

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