Of canon and secular law in the abuse crisis

I would seem that the distinction between what Church and state can do in the abuse crisis is still hard to understand for many, including professors.

Fokko Oldenhuis, professor in religion and law at the University of Groningen claims that Cardinal Wim Eijk has been misleading victims by saying that the Church would not to apply the statute of limitations in abuse cases, RTV Noord reports. Professor Oldenhuis now claims that this only happened for victims who have claimed compensation from the Church. And that makes sense. How can the Church decide on matters which do not fall under her jurisdiction. A victim can choose to go to court, and let a judge decide on the matter. The Church has little to say on the proceedings then.

The statute of limitations is a legal construct laid down in law. The Church has long since decided not to apply this in cases where the perpetrator of the abuse is a cleric, even though canon law prescribes it be applied ten years after the victim has turned 18. This is canon law, quite a separate entity from civil law, but which also knows the statute of limitations. A civil judge is under no obligation to follow canon law, even if the reverse is strongly encouraged.

Professor Oldenhuis’ comments are presented as statements of fact, without any source or explanation. I think it would be good to clearly separate canon and secular law, which each have their own areas of jurisdiction and which are both wholly separate and independent.

Edit: Although it is still unclear exactly when a Church representative requested the statute of limitations to be applied, a further reading of the full interview with Professor Oldenhuis indicates that there has at least been a miscommunication and at worst an error on the part of the Church. Professor Oldenhuis, in my opinion, is correct in claiming that the Church should waive the statute of limitations on all cases of abuse. When and if this happened, and under which circumstances, remains unclear.


Morning reflection: Laws and customs

‘And now, Israel, listen to the laws and customs which I am teaching you today, so that, by observing them, you may survive to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you.
Look: as Yahweh my God commanded me, I have taught you laws and customs, for you to observe in the country of which you are going to take possession. Keep them, put them into practice, and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation!”
And indeed, what great nation has its gods as near as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation has laws and customs as upright as the entirety of this Law which I am laying down for you today?
‘But take care, as you value your lives! Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, to your children and to your children’s children.

Deutoronomy 4: 1, 5-9

In the first reading at Mass today, Moses speaks to us about laws and customs. He tells us that the way we act will tell others about what we are. That is a truth for us as well. The best way to evangelise, to inform others of our faith, is still by doing instead of by talking (although the two can obviously go together).

In the third paragraph of the passage above, Moses also mentions a greater Law, with a capital ‘L ‘. This is the Law of the Lord, one of the foundation stones of all creation. We can call it natural law, or moral law, but whatever its name, it finds its origin in God. Our human laws, in order to be just and good, must be reflections of this higher Law. If they are not, they will go against our core human nature, which was created by God as part of all Creation.

The commandments, rules and regulations that many find such an obstacle in their spiritual life are anything but obstacles. They are the tools that help us be as near to God as we can.

Art credit: ‘Teaching the children’, by Forres Gordon Dingwall