Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Vatican Publishes Guidelines For Dealing with and Documents on Sexual Abuse Allegations

The Vatican, in its website, on April 12, published a "Guide to Understanding CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] Procedures Concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" along with more than two dozen documents on clergy sex abuse under the title "Abuse of Minors: The Church's Response."

Although the guidelines have been published now, the procedures therein are old. Most of the procedures were in the 1983 Code of Canon Law and all of them have been in effect since the motu proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" of April 30, 2001. All these have been published in the website "as an introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists."

The Main Points of the Guidelines

  • The local diocese will investigate every allegation of clergy sexual abuse of a minor.
  • If there is some truth in the allegation, the case should be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The local bishop will send all the necessary information regarding the allegation to the CDF and let the CDF know of his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long time.
  • Civil law concerning reporting sex abuse crimes to the appropriate government authorities should always be followed.
  • During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community including the victim. The bishop also has the power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese.
  • When the priest is judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal procedures can condemn a priest to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state (priesthood).
  • The CDF also will bring to the Holy Father (Pope) requests by accused priests, who, upon realizing their crimes, ask for dispensation from the obligation of the priesthood and want laicization (return to the non-priesthood state). The Pope then grans such requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae").
  • In cases, where the accused priest has admitted his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest.
Many have praised these guidelines, that have been made public just recently, but there are others who feel that these guidelines were already there but they were not followed conscientiously. They feel that new and strong guidelines are required to reduce clergy sex abuse cases drastically.

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