New norms for sexual abuse cases expected from Vatican


Vatican City, Jul 7, 2010 / 02:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Updates to canon law on the gravest sins in the Church can be expected in the coming days, Vatican sources report. The modifications are expected to give "greater clarity" to the Vatican protocol for suspending and laicizing priests.

The last time the law was modified was in 2001 when Pope John Paul II, together with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine (CDF) of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, defined which offenses were the "delicta graviora," or most serious sins. Those cases were then placed under the sole jurisdiction of the CDF.

The modifications made in 2001 were published in the motu proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela," which defined the most serious sins as those against the sacrament of Penance, against the Eucharist and against the sixth commandment when committed by a priest against a minor under 18 years of age.

Until that date, the regulations on these violations, including sexual abuse, were provided by the 1962 document "Crimen sollicitationis." According to the Italian news agency APCOM, the old regulations delegated intervention to the bishops' conferences and a variety of Vatican dicasteries, "thus creating and elevating the risk of cover-ups."

The report went on to propose that the soon-to-be-released Vatican document will include wording that will clarify the procedures "for the suspension of a pedophile priest and his reduction to the lay state" and an extension of the statute of limitations, currently set at 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday.

The Italian news agency stated that "the question of the relationship between canonical justice and civil justice, on the other hand, should not enter into the modifications in the process of being published, because it's beyond the scope of ... the strictly canonical material of the 'delicta graviora'."

On this final point, other news reports disagree. Various articles say that the coming motu proprio will establish a more concrete protocol for the CDF's guidance to bishops that they should follow civil procedures in reporting crimes to the appropriate authorities.