Friday, July 9, 2010

Church Abuse Scandal, New York Times & the Problem with “hucusque vigens”

A canon lawyer and The New York Times are in agreement - that the Church's canon-law system exacerbated the sex abuse crisis in the United States.

Nicholas P. Cafardi, a canon lawyer, explains why he agrees with the New York Times article called,“Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal,”:

It is rare when issues of canon law make the front page of the New York Times and even more rare when the secular media gets their canonical issues right. But the Times story of July 2, 2010, “Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal,” did just that. As the Times reported, it truly was a failure in the church’s canon-law system that exacerbated, if it did not help to cause, the clergy child sex-abuse crisis in the United States.

When the crisis first broke in the mid-1980s, U.S. canon lawyers (me among them) thought that the new Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983, limited the canonical prosecutions of priests who had sexually abused minors to crimes that were reported within five years of their occurrence. The new canon 1362 said that the statute of limitations on such crimes was five years after their commission.

The problem with that statute, of course, is that it takes children much longer than five years to come to terms with an instance of abuse and begin to tell people about it. The literature suggests that the average time for a child to figure out exactly what was done to them, how wrong it was, that it was not their fault, and that they have nothing to fear from telling people about it, is about twenty years. So a five-year statute on child sexual-abuse crimes is unrealistic to begin with. CONTINUED

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