Vatican Smokescreen: Canon Law Changes & Sexual Abuse

Jason Sylvester
2 min readJun 3, 2021
Morten Ingelmann

As the saying goes, ‘The more things change the more they stay the same.’ This is certainly true for the Vatican and its attempts to dodge any and all accountability for its continued institutional failings to punish abusive priests.

On June 2, 2021, the Vatican issued an update to the penal code in its canon law. Predictably, the entire exercise is a redwash by the cardinals in their crimson robes to continue the status quo. It is as if they got together and decided on what were the least possible actions they could take to give the appearance of change while actually doing nothing.

The new code makes it a crime, under their canon law, when bishops fail to take action after receiving a report of abuse. However, just as before, there is absolutely no requirement that they report a potential crime to civil law enforcement. Further, in its pattern of deflecting responsibility and victim-blaming, the Vatican still views women and children as temptations who use their devious sexuality to lure their innocent priests into sinning, and consider it merely a violation of the sixth commandment against adultery.

The Vatican princes, and indeed religious leaders across the faith spectrum, think themselves and their institution above the law and are only beholden to God. However, since the late 400s, when an ineffectual pope hiding behind rhetorical bluster first officially enunciated his superiority over the Eastern Roman emperor, it has evolved into the party line. Consequently, the Vatican truly believes it is not beholden to any secular authority for its criminal activity.

Could any large corporation simply declare it has regulations in place, designed simply to shield itself from civil investigation and prosecution, and claim the HR department will conduct an internal review and handle any disciplinary matters? Why does the Vatican think itself immune to the laws of the lands where these crimes are committed and that it can declare it will police itself?

While the Vatican itself may have statehood, the crimes are being perpetrated inside the sovereign borders of other nations against its citizens, by employees of the Church who are themselves residents of that civil jurisdiction. As such, the crimes are fully within the scope of civilian law enforcement. Perhaps the only thing that will force change on this obstinately resistant-to-change institution, is if the victims of abuse stop trying to protect a Church that has repeatedly failed them by reporting the crimes to the bishops and instead go straight to their local police.

It is time the Church faced the harsh reality of its failings and recognized that its members are not above civilian law. They will not go willingly, so it must be forced upon them by holding them accountable in our secular courts.



Jason Sylvester

Jason summarizes the socio-political impacts of religious history