Canon Law Regarding Abuse by Clergy Explained

US Bishops Offer Media Seminar

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 14, 2010 ( The U.S. bishops’ conference is offering explanations about the canonical process regarding clergy who are accused of sexual abuse of minors.

On Thursday, the conference publicized an informational document in the form of questions and answers about canon law regarding abuse cases. As well, it is offering a day-long program on May 25 for media on these issues.

The document discusses the history of laws surrounding abuse cases, penalties the Church can apply to an offending priest, the trial process, and the issue of secrecy in the proceedings.

It answers questions such as: «What does canon law now require a bishop to do when he receives an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor committed by a cleric (priest or deacon)?

«Does the bishop always report the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

«Is the priest or deacon still in ministry while all of this is being considered? What does a sexual abuse trial look like when conducted under canon law?»

«The Church has long had laws on the books that address this crime,» the document affirmed.

It noted that «in the clearest and most egregious cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could refer the matter to the Pope for immediate dismissal of the cleric.»


The document explained: «Catholic Church law provides a range of penalties for various crimes. For the sexual abuse of minors it provides for a just penalty that may include dismissal from the clerical state.»

It continued: «In every case where a cleric admits to or is found guilty of the sexual abuse of minors he is permanently withdrawn from all public ministry. Nor may he present himself as a priest or deacon.

«Thus, even if a member of the clergy is not dismissed from the clerical state for having committed the crime of the sexual abuse of minors, his public ministry is still fully restricted in light of the gravity of the offense committed.»

The paper described the differences between dismissal, «laicization,» and suspension. It also noted that some priests have been assigned to a «life of prayer and penance,» which, it explained, could happen when a cleric is found guilty but is «seriously ill or of advanced age.»

The document continued: «He is expected to dedicate his life to praying for victims and repenting of his past offenses.

«In this way, the Church seeks even here to prevent any future abuse and to repair the injustice that has already taken place.»

It noted that there are also cases when a priest or deacon is falsely accused of sexual abuse, in which «the good reputation of the cleric needs to be repaired.»

The document added, «The Essential Norms state that every step possible must be made to restore the good name of those who have been falsely accused and whose good reputation might have been illegitimately harmed.»

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