Sunday, August 29, 2010

contra the Catholic Church

gravely delinquent

I know nobody reads this blog, but I would urge all conscientious Catholics to seriously consider the institution they belong to. It would not exist, of course, without its millions of worshippers and supporters.
There has been a stream of 'revelations' in recent times, many of which have come as no surprise to those who are students of history and who are aware of the corruptions of power. Still, let's struggle against the fatigue which wave upon wave of sickening tales of Church cover-ups and outrageous Church pronouncements are likely to cause, and be clear and courageous about this impossible organisation.
To me, the only good thing about the recently revealed behaviour of the Irish Catholic Church in colluding with the state and the police to obstruct justice is that it just might hasten the demise of a too-long lingering institution.
The latest comes from the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland. A priest, James Chesney, known by just about everyone to have been a high-ranking figure in the IRA, became the central figure in a cover-up in 1972. In the summer of that year, the village of Claudy, in Londonderry, was struck by three car bombs which killed nine people. The resulting investigation was woefully, and apparently deliberately inadequate, as you can read here. Chesney was moved over the border into southern Ireland where he died in 1980, aged 46. The case was opened up again in 2002, leading to a report, just released, by the ombudsman. This report has been criticized on the basis that Derry was a 'war zone' at the time, with some 500 deaths in that year, the height of the 'troubles'. While this no doubt made the police's job very difficult, it doesn't excuse the fact that a crime was poorly investigated, and that there seems to have been interference from political and religious authorities. Nobody was ever charged over the Claudy bombing, in spite of many claims that Chesney had his hand in much of the IRA killing at that time. Given what we know about how the Catholic Church has tended to deal with pedophiles in its employ, and how reluctant authorities have been to deal with this powerful institution in the way they haven't hesitated to deal with other clubs or societies, these latest 'revelations' are hardly revelations - they're just more examples of the corrupting power of power.
All this reminds me of something I never got round to writing about a little while back, when this same institution came out with some sort of edict about the ordination of women...
In June, new disciplinary rules were issued, declaring the ordination of women as 'a crime against the faith'. Crime? The Catholic Church still derogates to itself the right to define what is or is not a crime? Well, apparently only in Canon Law - which, one hopes, has about as much legitimacy as shar'ia law in this country.
So what status does Canon Law, or I should say canon law, have here? Or anywhere else? We'll return to that later. 
The Australian online reported it thusly on July 16:

The ordination of women is now on the same level as child abuse in the eyes of the Church.

A sweeping revision to the laws on sexual abuse of children by priests includes the "attempted ordination of a woman" to the priesthood as a "grave delict" subject that can lead to immediate excommunication at the hands of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the disciplinary body once headed by the present Pope.

The newspaper doesn't mention what the status of these laws are, or what this organisation thinks it is doing in referring to what are presumably internal processes as laws. It can have rules, like a tennis club, but not laws. If you infringe the rules, you get kicked out of the club, fair enough, but those rules can't trump the laws of the land. The rules can't contravene anti-discrimination legislation, for example. And what is a delict? From Wikipedia:
In the most narrowly construed sense, delict is a Latin word and a legal term, which, in some civil law systems, signifies a wilful wrong, similar to the common law concept of tort though differing in many substantive ways
So, delict is not a term exclusive to the RCC, and I would question that institution's right to borrow this term from civil law systems, which are presumably backed up by proper state legislation. The remarks of the RCC's disciplinary body can only refer to a 'grave breach of its own rules or policy', not to any crime, for the RCC doesn't have the power [any more] to determine criminality of any kind. Much has been made of this elevation of the 'attempted ordination of women' to the status of a 'grave delict', which puts it on the same level as child abuse. Obviously some clever RCC watcher has noted the equivalence and put it about, and others have run with it. Not even the RCC would be arrogant enough to highlight such an equivalence, and its response is that 'grave delict' is a catch-all term which doesn't mean that all grave delicts are equivalent. perish the thought.
So what about the true legal status of canon law? A brief examination of the Wikipedia article on canon law makes it clear enough that it only governs the internal affairs of the RCC and affiliated bodies, such as the Anglican Communion. Maybe it has some state legal status within the Vatican, but nowhere else. Thus the term 'crime' or 'delict' [grave or otherwise] should only be understood in this highly circumscribed sense. The RCC should make this clear, but of course it won't, because it still believes it's the light of the world, and that it's 'law' is the only law that really matters.

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