The Catholic Church’s Rules on Sex Abuse Reporting

The Vatican has put together a clear-cut, straightforward explaination which describes step-by-step what everyone involved should do if a sex abuse claim is raised. Here’s an even more condensed version of the steps involved:

A: Preliminary –

  • “The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric,” and if there’s a semblance of truth, the bishop sends the necessary info (and his opinion on the validity of the claim) to the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith (CDF), which takes over the case.
  • Significantly, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” In other words, tell the police.
  • The bishop also has the ability, while the case is pending, to do things like restrict the accused priest’s ministry to prevent any other children from being harmed.

B: Procedures authorized by the CDF –

B1: Penal Process (normal cases):

  • The CDF can authorize the bishop to conduct a judicial or administrative penal trial. A judicial penal trial is before a tribunal, while an administrative penal trial is before the bishop and two assessors.
  • If found guilty, the priest can be subject to a number of penalties, the most severe of which is defrocking.
  • The priest found guilty has the right to appeal to the CDF, whose decision is final.

B2: Cases referred directly to the Holy Father (“very grave cases”)

  • “In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming,” or where the accused priest himself requests to be defrocked, the CDF can (and upon the request of the accused, must) take the case directly to the pope to defrock the priest. Of course, this can’t be appealed.

B3: Disciplinary Measures

  • If the accused priest “has admitted to 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.”
  • The decree carries canonical penalty for violation, all the way to defrocking the disobedient priest.
  • Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees. The decision of the CDF is final.

C. Revision of MP SST

  • The CDF has been working on updating part of Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela, due to the additional powers given to the CDF by Popes JPII and Benedict XVI. None of the updates will change anything mentioned above.

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