Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vatican issues new norms of Grave Delicts

Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued new norms, approved by the Holy Father on 21st May 2010, concerning clerics guilty of grave delicts concerning Faith, Sacraments (Eucharist, Penance, attempted ordination of women), and Morals.

It is these latter, delicts against morals, that the public is clearly most concerned about. And the statements from the Vatican do not fail to address this concern.

The statement from Father Federico Lombardi deals primarily with this aspect of the new norms:
The serious crimes to which the (previous 2001) regulations referred concerned vital aspects of Church life: the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance, but also sexual abuse committed by a priest against a minor under the age of eighteen.

The vast public echo this latter kind of crime has had over recent years has attracted great attention and generated intense debate on the norms and procedures applied by the Church to judge and punish such acts.

It is right, then, that there should be complete clarity concerning the regulations currently in force in this field, and that these regulations be presented organically so as to facilitate the work of the people who deal with these matters.

An initial clarification - especially for use by the media - was provided recently with the publication on the Holy See website of a brief "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations". The publication of the new Norms is, however, quite a different thing, providing us with an official and updated legal text which is valid for the whole Church.

In order to facilitate the reading of the Norms by a non-specialist public, particularly interested in the problems of sexual abuse, we will seek to highlight a number of important aspects:

Among the novelties introduced with respect to the earlier Norms, mention must be made, above all, of measures intended to accelerate procedures, such as the possibility of not following the "judicial process" but proceeding by "extrajudicial decree", or that of presenting (in particular circumstances) the most serious cases to the Holy Father with a view to dismissing the offender from the clerical state.

Another Norm intended to simplify earlier problems and to take account of the evolution of the situation in the Church concerns the possibility of having not only priests but also lay persons as members of the tribunal staff, or as lawyers or prosecutors. Likewise, in order to undertake these functions it is no longer strictly necessary to have a doctorate in canon law, but the required competency can also be proved in another way; for example, with a licentiate.

Another aspect worthy of note is the increase of the statute of limitations from ten years to twenty years, with the possibility of extension even beyond that period.

Another significant aspect is establishing parity between the abuse of mentally disabled people and that of minors, and the introduction of a new category: paedophile pornography. This is defined as: "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".

Regulations concerning the secrecy of trials are maintained, in order to safeguard the dignity of all the people involved.

One point that remains untouched, though it has often been the subject of discussion in recent times, concerns collaboration with the civil authorities. It must be borne in mind that the Norms being published today are part of the penal code of canon law, which is complete in itself and entirely distinct from the law of States.

On this subject, however, it is important to take note of the "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations", as published on the Holy See website. In that Guide, the phrase "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed" is contained in the section dedicated to "Preliminary Procedures". This means that in the practice suggested by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith it is necessary to comply with the requirements of law in the various countries, and to do so in good time, not during or subsequent to the canonical trial.

Today's publication of the Norms makes a great contribution to the clarity and certainty of law in this field; a field in which the Church is today strongly committed to proceeding with rigour and transparency so as to respond fully to the just expectations of moral coherence and evangelical sanctity nourished by the faithful and by public opinion, and which the Holy Father has constantly reiterated.

Of course, many other measures and initiatives are required from the various ecclesiastical bodies. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is currently examining how to help the bishops of the world formulate and develop, coherently and effectively, the indications and guidelines necessary to face the problems of the sexual abuse of minors, either by members of the clergy or within the environment of activities and institutions connected with the Church, bearing in mind the situation and the problems of the societies in which they operate.

This will be another crucial step on the Church's journey as she translates into permanent practice and continuous awareness the fruits of the teachings and ideas that have matured over the course of the painful events of the "crisis" engendered by sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

The reason I have highlighed so prominently certain phrases in the above extract is that I feel that a very prominent British blogger has been rather unfairly damning of the Vatican's PR machine. It has its faults, but I think it behoves journalists to read the statements. Of course the latest document deals with other grave delicts  and to that extent the new document can be considered a tidying up of law on different matters which are grave delicts. But the statement by Lombardi clearly shows that the Church is aware of the public's overriding concern with the sexual abuse scandal.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF)  Historical Introduction to the previous norms of 2001 gives an interesting and critical analysis of the problems that occurred in the period between 1965, the year the Second Vatican Council concluded, and 1983, the year when the new Code of Canon Law came into effect (my emphases):

The reforms proposed by the Second Vatican Council required a reform of the 1917 Code of Canon Law and of the Roman Curia. The period between 1965 and 1983 (the year when the new Latin Code of Canon Law appeared) was marked by differing trends in canonical scholarship as to the scope of canonical penal law and the need for a de-centralized approach to cases with emphasis on the authority and discretion of the local bishops. A “pastoral attitude” to misconduct was preferred and canonical processes were thought by some to be anachronistic. A “therapeutic model” often prevailed in dealing with clerical misconduct. The bishop was expected to “heal” rather than “punish”. An overoptimistic idea of the benefits of psychological therapy guided many decisions concerning diocesan or religious personnel, sometimes without adequate regard for the possibility of recidivism.
It is to be hoped that these very stringent norms will enable any future cases of alleged offence to be dealt with justly and efficiently and that they may be the deterent that, sadly, may be required by some clerics to keep them, given the fallen human condition of mankind, from straying onto the path of immoral behaviour.

The website of the Canon Law Society of America gives links to the full suite of documents issued today.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Father Boyle. Thank you! I am also mystified by the hysterical reaction on the part of normally reasonable and sound Catholic bloggers/writers.

    Carl Olson
    Ignatius Insight


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