Canon Law Newsletters Show Document Discussions

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette [Worcester MA]
Downloaded August 21, 2003

The Vatican recently said its 1962 directive concerning how allegations of sexual abuse involving the sacrament of confession are to be handled had not been in force for years, but newsletters of the Canon Law Society of America show that discussions of the document continued until last year.

Lawyers Daniel J. Shea of Houston and Carmen L. Durso of Boston recently presented a copy of the Vatican document, called in Latin "Crimen Sollicitationes" - or "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitations"- to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan in Boston.

The U.S. attorney told Mr. Shea last week that he is studying the document. The lawyers are asking that the federal government investigate what they see as an international conspiracy by the Catholic church to cover up cases of sexual abuse by clergy.

The newsletters of the Canon Law Society show that officers met in Rome in February 2002, a time when the churchwide sexual abuse scandal broke open in Boston with new revelations about the extent of clergy sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese.

In this meeting with representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the newsletter said, "Our discussion at the Congregation focused on identification of certain aspects of procedures for clergy sexual misconduct, particularly the 1962 instruction "Crimen Sollicitationes" and the more recent instruction "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela."

Mr. Shea, who found "Sacramentorum Sactitatis Tutela" on the Vatican Web site in 2002, said the English translation clearly shows that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith, indicated that the 1962 directive was in effect "until now." Mr. Shea did not know the 1962 document existed until he saw it footnoted in the Ratzinger document.

The 1962 directive, which was approved by Pope John XXII, indicated strictest secrecy in handling these allegations. It was sent to all bishops throughout the world and they were instructed to keep the document secret.

The later document by Cardinal Ratzinger was intended to bring the manner of handling sexual abuse complaints against clergy in line with the new canon law code.

The newsletter did not give details of these discussions, but said they also talked about "procedures and time limits in the prosecution of particular cases."

During a 1996 meeting of Canon Law Society officers in Rome, officers were told that the norms listed in the 1962 document were under review by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "New norms are required in light of the revision of canon law. In the interim, the 1962 norms should be followed, with obvious adaptations," the newsletter said.

The Roman Catholic church is governed by its own Code of Canon Law, which was last revised in 1983. The church has canon lawyers who are certified to interpret the law of the church and to work within its internal system of jurisprudence. These lawyers can be priests, lay people or members of religious orders. Their main umbrella organization in this country is the Canon Law Society of America.

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