We need an expert in Vatican jargon, or Catholic doctrine, or Jesuitical Vaticanesque doctrinal legalistic jargon. Hamilton Jacobi alerted us in a comment on ‘The pope invited the bishops to explain’ to the possibility that the pope’s 2001 letter didn’t mean what The Observer reported it to mean. I took a look at the English version* and I’m not at all clear on what it’s saying. It’s not unmistakably saying ‘Bishops must hide clerical sex abuse of children from the police’ and it could well not be saying that at all – so I have to withdraw some of what I’ve said on that subject in the last few days about the coverage of the pope’s scolding the Irish bishops. At least provisionally, I have to withdraw it. The first part of the letter looks as if it at least could be saying that 1) sex abuse by priests is a ‘delict against the sanctity of the sacrament of penance’ and 2) as such it is a church matter, and that that part alone is what is church business and no one else’s. It looks as if it could be consistent with meaning it’s also a criminal matter…although it also looks as if it could be consistent with the church refusing to do anything about the criminal matter because to do so would violate the putative ‘sanctity of the sacrament of penance’ – which would pretty much leave the pope back where he was, and I would withdraw my withdrawal.

Farther down it gets even more ambiguous, and I’m just not at all clear what it’s saying.

The church might say we don’t have to be clear what it’s saying, it’s none of our business, it’s the church’s business – but of course that’s just what’s at the heart of this: it isn’t just the church’s business, obviously, and if the church thinks it is, the church needs to get its priorities straight.

So what do you think? Can you figure out what it’s saying?

It must be noted that the criminal action on delicts reserved to the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith is extinguished by a prescription of 10 years.(11) The prescription
runs according to the universal and common law;(12) however, in the delict perpetrated
with a minor by a cleric, the prescription begins to run from the day when the minor has
completed the 18th year of age.

What does that mean, for instance? I can’t make head or tail of it.

I don’t suppose any lawyer theologians read B&W regularly…but if any do…how about a little exegesis for us heathens?

*Catholicism is a global religion, so it seems fair to take translations as no less official than the Vatican’s Latin version, unless of course they’re just bad translations.

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