Publication of disciplinary norms after the pedophile scandals

Source: FSSPX News

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published on July 15 a reform of the Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela by John Paul II, published in 2001, concerning “serious crimes” committed by priests and Church employees in positions of authority. These new “norms” provide for accelerated procedures in dealing with “the most serious crimes”, and they extend the statute of limitations from ten to twenty years after a victim of sexual abuse reaches the age of eighteen.

These new “norms concerning the most serious crimes” are subdivided into 31 articles, a dozen of which have been modified. From now on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by mandate of the pope, has “the right, as mandated by the Roman Pontiff, to judge Cardinals, Patriarchs, … Bishops” in cases of “crimes against the faith” and “the more grave delicts committed against morals or in the celebration of the sacraments”.

The new norms relating to sexual abuse of minors provide in particular for accelerated procedures by which to settle the most urgent cases.  Thus “the most serious cases” can be the object of an “extra-judiciary decree” or else be presented directly to the pope for his decision “for dismissal from the clerical state or suspension with a dispensation from the law of celibacy, when the crime is manifestly verified, and after giving the guilty party the possibility to defend himself”.

Furthermore the newly published norms equate sexual abuse against the mentally handicapped with sexual abuse of minors.  They also introduce the crime of child pornography.  Thus “the acquisition, possession or disclosure by a member of the clergy, in any way and by any means, of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen” are considered “most serious crimes against morals”, which are reserved to the judgment of the CDF.

In another area entirely, “the grave delict of the attempted ordination of a woman” is likewise “reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, in keeping with a decree previously published by the CDF in December 2007.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained to the press that these norms preserve “the confidentiality of the process, so as to protect the dignity of all persons concerned”.  And although these “canonical norms, which are the exclusive province of the Church, … do not address the question of reporting to the civil authorities,” Fr. Lombardi pointed out that “compliance with civil laws is called for by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the preliminary phases of the canonical inquest, as explained in the Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations that was published some time ago.”

The director of the Press Office of the Holy See finally informed reporters that the CDF was currently working on “further recommendations for the bishops’ conferences aimed at making more rigorous, coherent and effective the guidelines that they had established with regard to sexual abuse of minors committed by members of the clergy or in Church institutions”.

Speaking also at that press conference, the Promoter of Justice of the CDF, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, highlighted certain points contained in this revision of the norms, particularly the consultation of lay people in studying cases of sexual abuse, at the diocesan level as well.  Emphasizing that such consultation was sometimes practiced even within the Roman Curia “to give a signal” that the Church is being open, Msgr. Scicluna verified that “often dioceses do not have canon lawyers (available), as the Vatican does.”  Moreover “the contribution of lay people is essential in evaluating a case,” for example, “the experience of psychologists, and especially of child psychologists”.

When asked about the fact that the types of grave delicts (serious crimes) mentioned in this document vary widely, from sexual abuse of minors to the [attempted] ordination of women, Msgr. Scicluna explained that these crimes had “different degrees of seriousness” and are “not on the same level”, since some of them are against morals and others against the sacraments;  nevertheless they all had their place in “a document aimed at establishing the competence concerning crimes reserved to the CDF”.  (Sources:  VIS/Zenit/Apic/Imedia – DICI no. 219 dated July 24, 2010)