POPE'S INSULT TO ALL WOMEN; Vatican Says That Making a Woman a Priest Is as Sinful as Abusing a Child; Pope Is Accused of 'Missing the Boat' on Abuse Response

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Byline: Ferghal Blaney

THE Vatican has declared that making a woman a priest is just as sinful as abusing a child.

New rules published by leaders of the Catholic Church said both are sins and set them at the same level of gravity. They even recommended the same punishment for them under Canon Law.

Vatican officials insisted that the new version of its laws showed that the Church was 'very, very serious in its commitment to promote safe environments'.

But the latest pronouncement had the appearance of an own goal by Pope Benedict in his attempt to cool the scandal over Catholic cover-ups of child abuse by paedophile priests.

Last night victims' groups protested that criminal offences against children should be given far greater weight than doctrinal arguments over whether women can be ordained. Andrew Madden, the former Dublin altar boy who took the Church to court here during the 1990s, said: 'The first thing the Church should be doing is reporting crimes to civil authorities. That's far, far more important than deciding whether a criminal priest should be defrocked or not. The Church's internal rules are no more important than the rules of your local golf club.'

Barbara Dorris of the U.S.-based Survivors' Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the new rules 'can be summed up in three words: missing the boat'.

She said that the new regulations were 'like attacking an elephant with a pea-shooter when the elephant is almost out of range', and that the impact on the global crisis facing the Church was likely to be 'insignificant'.

The new rules mean that priests can be defrocked or excommunicated for paedophile offences, sexual abuse of mentally handicapped adults, or attempting to ordain women.

The acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography will be regarded as an offence on the same level as physical abuse of children .

Punishments of erring priests will be handed down by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department known in past centuries as the Inquisition.

In the past a complex system of Church tribunals would take months or even years to deal with a paedophile priest. However, from today priests will be summarily dealt with by Church leaders .

Doctrinal official Monsignor Charles Scicluna said: 'This gives a signal that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse. …