Innocent "Until Proven Otherwise" Counts in Canonical Cases Too

Conclusions of Symposium on Criminal Prosecution

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ROME, MARCH 30, 2004 ( In canonical criminal proceedings it is necessary to balance the demands of the common good with the dignity and rights of the accused, said participants at a symposium.

The symposium on «Criminal Prosecution and the Protection of Rights in Canonical Legislation» gathered experts from the Holy See, Europe and North America last Thursday and Friday in Rome. The School of Canon Law of the University of the Holy Cross organized the event.

Monsignor Joaquín Llobell, instructor of procedural law at the University of the Holy Cross, referred to the norms adopted by U.S. bishops in the wake of the clerical sex-abuse scandals.

He pointed to «the need to harmonize the protection of the common good with the dignity and rights of the accused,» as well as the need «to be profoundly consistent in respect of the needs that natural and civil law consider as indispensable for the apportioning of punishments, in particular, the most serious.»

Kenneth Pennington, a professor from Catholic University of America, spoke on the duty to recognize the innocence of a person «until proven otherwise.»

«No one, absolutely no one, can be denied a trial, in any circumstance,» Pennington said. «And all, absolutely all, have the right to a solid and profound defense. It is a principle that we must not forget or abandon.»

Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Apostolic Signature, the Church’s supreme court, reminded participants that «criminal law has its own configuration and a specific dimension in the life of the Church, complementary to other instruments with which the Church carries out its mission in time.»

Its importance cannot be debated, he added, as one runs the risk that «the faithful will lose the sense of justice. It would be something serious, as without a sense of justice one loses the sense of equity, mercy and charity.»

The meeting ended with a round-table discussion on the application of Church sanctions, including those recently applied in the United States.

«In the crisis in which United States bishops found themselves,» said Monsignor Kenneth Boccafola, auditor prelate of the Roman Rota, the Church’s central appellate court, «a rapid and effective remedy had to be found to help them demonstrate to the faithful that the Church was addressing the problem, and that it had the will to punish the criminals and protect the children.»

Monsignor Boccafola added that «perhaps it would have been better to request the re-establishment of the ‘suspensio ex informata conscientia’ that is applied to individuals correctly judged guilty,» instead of putting in the bishops’ hands «powers of decision to which he can take recourse according to his own discretion.»

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