ROME — The Vatican issued new in-house rules Thursday that it said would make punishing sexually abusive priests easier but that critics declared short on real change.
The revised regulations allow the Holy See to fast-track the defrocking of a cleric guilty of child molestation and extend the statute of limitations within church law in such cases. They also define sexual abuse of mentally disabled people and possession of child pornography as canonical crimes for which a priest can be stripped of his clerical status.
But in many ways, the revisions — contained in the first major document issued by the Vatican since a sex abuse scandal in Europe erupted earlier this year — merely make official what is already working procedure within the church. They also do not explicitly require that sexual misconduct be reported to police or that bishops who hush up such crimes be disciplined, as critics have demanded.
And controversially, the new document classifies the attempted ordination of a woman as a canonical crime equal in gravity to molesting minors and heresy. That has outraged advocates of greater rights for women within the Roman Catholic Church, many of them in the U.S.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's internal prosecutor, defended the revised rules as an important step. Many elements of the policy have already become common practice but did not, until Thursday, have the force of canonical, or church, law behind them. "That is a step forward, because the norm of law is binding and is certain," Scicluna told reporters.