Wow. The New York Times can’t stop itself.

In an editorial on Saturday , the Grey Lady deemed last weeks changes to the motu proprio concerning crimes against the holy sacraments worse than inadequate. “Among all the defensive posturing and inept statements,” write the editors, there was one real stunner.” And the shock? The Vatican has the gall to cite attempts to ordain women as a grave crime, along with further clarification of sexual abuse. How dare they mention both in the same document!

This motu proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela , was originally put forward in 2001 by Pope John Paul II as the canonical mechanism for clarifying and steamlining the process by which priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, as well as other grave offenses could be removed from the priesthood. It’s something akin to legislation refining laws for prosecuting crimes.

The recently released revisions offer still further clarifications: an increase in the statute of limitations to 20 years, establishing the possibility of immediate dismissal from the clerical state (“defrocking”), by direct action of the Pope rather than by ecclesiastical trial, as well as specifying the right of the Vatican to take action against bishops.

In addition to these procedural changes, the modifications specify more clearly the range of sexual abuse properly subject to canoncial sanctions, as well as adding other actions, such as tape recording a confession or attempting to ordain women to the priesthood.

It was on this point that the Times goes ballistic, as did Maureen Dowd in one of her typically intemperate effusions .

The party line seems to be this: The Catholic Church “equates pedophilia with the ordination of women.” Which proves how terrible and stupid and morally rebarbative the Church has become (always was?).

This reaction shows, I think, the intellectual limitations of the secular media. Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela concerns itself with crimes against the sacrements of penance (confession), the eucharist, and holy orders. It treats throwing away the consecrated host in the same document as breaking the seal of confession—and breaking the vow of chastity and soiling the priesthood by way of sexual abuse of minors.

The secular media insists that sexual abuse is a unique crime, to be understood only in light of the harm done to the abused victims. Of course this is a dimension, but not the only dimension. In secular law, a murder or theft is a crime against the civil order of society, which is why our criminal trials are conducted by judges for the sake of the common good, and not for the sake of the victims or their families. The same holds for ecclesiastical crimes, which assault and damage the supernatural life of the Church.

Civil society categorizes crimes according to their formal nature as well as their intrinsic gravity. Crimes against property fall into a different category than crimes against persons, and so forth. The same holds for the Church. In her system sexual crimes committed by priests are crimes against the sacramental system, of which the vows of the priesthood are an important part.

I can only shake my head over the shrillness. Dowd accuses the Vatican of being more concerned to protect the institution of the Church than . . . Well, it seems she wants mass public displays of atonement complete with hecatombs.

But the fact of the matter is this. If one believes that the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ and the ark of salvation made real to us in and through the sacraments, then it is precisely every Catholic’s duty to protect the sacramental system of the church.

Cardinal Law sinned against the church in Boston. His actions in covering up the pedophilia of priests greviousy wounded the Church, crippling the voice of the Gospel and sowing a bitter season of mistrust. The same may hold for other bishops elsewhere, some of whom elevated the boys club of the priesthood above the Church, and others of whom very likely were culpably negligent because they couldn’t be bothered.

But the huff and puff about the need for the Church to somehow acknowlege that the sins of its officers are more decisive, more important, than her sacramental life. This posturing amounts to insisting that the Catholic Church renounce the Catholic faith.

The editors at the New York Times know a publicity hammer when they see it, and these days it seems they are hammering on the Catholic Church as hard as they can. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that the Church forged the hammer herself out of her own quite substantial failure, some of which I fear have yet to be fully revealed.

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