Yesterday the Vatican website published a Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures
concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations “which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists”.
The guidelines explain briefly the procedures which have been in place since 30 April 2001 and which also derive from the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Among the points made:
* Every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is investiagted by the local diocese and, if there is even a “semblance of truth” the case is referred to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). “The local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese.”
* The CDF may authorise the local bishop to try the case. If a priest (whose has the right of appeal to the CDF) is found guilty, a number of canonical penalties are possible, including dismissal from the clerical state. “The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures.”
* Some cases can be referred directly to the Pope, who can issue a decree of dismissal from the priesthood ex officio.
* Other disciplinary measures short of dismissal are available where the priest has undertaken to live a life of prayer and penance, but he can be dismissed if he breaks the conditions imposed.
* The CDF is continuing to update the 2001 law (Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela) in the light of special faculties granted to the CDF by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Here is the Vatican webpage listing documents in the Church’s response to the abuse of minors.