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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JAMES CARROLL

No excuses for priestly child abuse

ON THE QUESTION of how far papal authority extends, the canon law of the Catholic Church could not be clearer: “The vicar of Christ. . . possesses full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” (Can. 331) Note that canon law does not say, “except in cases of priestly sex abuse of children.” Canon law does not say that priests and bishops are independent contractors. Canon law does not say that what happens in Catholic parishes and dioceses around the world has nothing to do with Rome. In fact, another canon reads, “By virtue of his office, the Roman pontiff not only possesses power over the universal church, but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power over all particular churches and groups of them.” (Can. 333)

How to square that sweeping papal power with the shameless dodge put forward by the Holy See in this era of church disgrace — the claim that, when it comes to protecting children from abuse, the Roman Catholic Church is legally responsible only to safeguard those living in the confines of Vatican City, a tiny city-state that would fit inside New York’s Central Park eight times? Washing the Vatican’s hands of broader responsibility for the staggering transnational accumulation of rapes by priests, and systematic enabling of those rapes by bishops, a Vatican spokesman said, “When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See . . . The competence of the Holy See is at the level of the Holy See.”

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