Vatican Streamlines Process for Handling Abuse

Norms Updated on Church’s Gravest Crimes

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 15, 2010 ( With a 31-article document, the Vatican today streamlined the process for dealing with priests who sexually abuse minors, as well as clarifying and updating other procedures and crimes handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Much of the content of the document, approved by Benedict XVI on May 21, was already in force.

The norms organize into one document faculties generally granted to the congregation over the years since the 2001 apostolic letter «Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,» which outlined the norms for addressing cases of «gravioribus delictis» (grave crimes).

Sexual abuse

Among the norms dealing with sexual abuse of minors, the new document doubles the statute of limitations, extending it from 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday to 20 years. Exceptions even for the 20-year limitation can be made on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions to the 10-year limit had already been the practice.

Acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography has also been included in the list of the «more grave crimes» to be handled by the doctrinal congregation. Additionally, sexual crimes perpetrated against mentally disabled adults will be treated the same as crimes against minors.

Norms already in practice for dealing with priest-abusers were incorporated into the new document.

For example, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith can dispense with an ecclesial trial in the most serious and clear crimes, and proceed directly to presenting to the Pope a case for dismissal from the clerical state.

It can also dispense from a judicial trial and authorize an administrative process.

The congregation can also dispense with the regulation that tribunal personnel must be priests with a doctorate in canon law. Qualified lay members can thus act as lawyers or hold other posts in these trials.

Eucharist, confession and the faith

The updated norms also regard other serious crimes.

For example, crimes against the faith — heresy, apostasy and schism — are considered, affirming the responsibility of the local bishop to proceed initially, with the right to appeal to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Crimes against the Eucharist and the sacrament of confession are also part of the revisions.

The doctrinal congregation will deal with crimes such as consecrating the Eucharist for sacrilegious purposes, or recording or publicizing a confession. Other crimes include simulating absolution or hearing a confession when one cannot do this validly, or concelebrating the Eucharist with ministers of ecclesial communities that do not have apostolic succession and do not acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination.

Attempting to ordain a woman to the priesthood is another crime dealt with in the document.

The revisions to the 2001 document were considered necessary, an explanatory note affirmed, in order to «render the text more useful.»

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Full text of norms:

Explanatory and introductory notes:

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