Pope's Resolve Seen Reflected in Revised Norms

Vatican Official Clarifies Updates to Handling "Grave Crimes"

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By Jesús Colina



VATICAN CITY, JULY 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A revised set of norms released today on the Church's "more grave crimes" can be considered a clear sign from Benedict XVI on how seriously he takes these matters, including the sexual abuse of minors, suggests an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice at the doctrinal congregation, was among those who presented two documents today regarding the crimes reserved to the jurisdiction of that dicastery.

Before being elected Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The norms presented today, in fact, organize into one document some faculties granted the congregation under his tenure.

In fact, much of the content of the new document, which was approved by Benedict XVI on May 21, was already in force.

The revisions are an update to the 2001 apostolic letter "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela," which outlined the norms for addressing cases of "gravioribus delictis" (grave crimes).

In addition to norms regarding priests who sexually abuse minors, the revision clarifies crimes against the Eucharist, the sacraments of confession and holy orders, and crimes against the faith.

Monsignor Scicluna, who coordinates a team of eight ecclesiastical magistrates, explained that this document is significant, if one keeps in mind that the previous norms were promulgated less than 10 years ago, in 2001, and then, in 2003, Pope John Paul II granted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith specific "faculties" to judge particularly grave crimes.
 
These "faculties," he clarified, were not integrated in the '01 "norms," which was why a revision and update was necessary.

The monsignor said that organizing the faculties into one clear document which updates the apostolic letter gives them more weight.
 
He explained that "the faculties have a rather ephemeral life: they depend a lot on the will of the Supreme Pontiffs."

But Benedict XVI, the monsignor noted, "no sooner than he was elected, expressed the desire that the faculties held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should be stabilized in the normative," as the norms, contrary to the "faculties," "remain in force until the Pope authorizes their modification."

New

Among the norms dealing with sexual abuse of minors, the new document doubles the statute of limitations, extending it from 10 years from the victim's 18th birthday to 20 years -- a period longer than that generally stipulated in civil legislation. Exceptions even for the 20-year limitation can be made on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions to the 10-year limit had already been the practice.

Another novelty makes it possible for laypeople to serve on ecclesiastical courts as lawyers or attorneys.
 
Monsignor Scicluna explained the reason for this change: "At the diocesan level, the contribution of the laity is essential. The contribution of the laity is essential when the bishop has the need of an opinion on the evaluation of a case, as he needs the competence of psychologists, sociologists, experts in child psychology, and on the influence of abuse on the victim."
 
"And we cannot find all these competencies in the clergy," he added. "We know that there are bishops who have made use of the competence of former policemen to carry out their investigations, as they wanted to arrive at the truth. And, for us, this is very important."
 
One of the novelties that sparked most interest among journalists is the "right, with the previous mandate of the Roman Pontiff," to judge cardinals, patriarchs, legates of the Apostolic See and bishops.
 
"This is an important sign, as it means that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be able to investigate and submit its findings to the Pope," explained Monsignor Scicluna.

Reporting to authorities

The revision to the norms does not stipulate anything about reporting sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities. This is because the norms deal with canon law, not civil law.

Monsignor Scicluna addressed this, saying that "the Pope does not take a step backward on the obligatory character of turning in allegations to civil courts."

He said that any Christian must obey civil law when civil law is just, and "there is no doubt that in this case the civil law is just."
 
"For this reason, if the allegation requires it, there is no way of escaping a denunciation to justice," the monsignor added. "If the law gives the faculty to the victim to decide if he does or does not wish to denounce, his will must be respected. It is not the task of the canonical legislator to enter into the field of civil law."
 
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On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text of norms: www.zenit.org/article-29899?l=english

Explanatory and introductory notes: www.zenit.org/article-29897?l=english