Why the Document on Priests´ Offenses?

Archbishop Cites Scandal and Need to Update Rules

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Why did John Paul II publish a document establishing rigorous ecclesiastical processes for priests who are involved in pederasty or who commit serious offenses involving the sacraments?



Archbishop Tarsicio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, attempted an answer, in the wake of public reaction to John Paul II´s document published "motu proprio" (on his own initiative).

Archbishop Bertone told Vatican Radio that the two fundamental reasons for the document were the need to adapt the norms to the new Code of Canon Law and the Canons of the Eastern Churches, and the scandal caused by these offenses.

The norms on the sacraments include cases involving desecration of the Eucharist, direct violation of the seal of confession, and sins related to the Sixth Commandment ("you shall not commit adultery") involving a penitent and confessor.

The archbishop said the cases of pedophile priests are on the increase. Yet "some cases have emerged of seriously illicit behavior on the part of sacred ministers," he acknowledged.

"We also know that these cases are emphasized by the media and press and, as a result, in a certain sense cause greater scandal than in the past," the archbishop added. "The problem of scandal is a problem that preoccupies the Church."

The papal document, "Sacramentorum Sanctitati Tutela" (Tutelage of the Holiness of the Sacraments), was published in the January edition of the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis" (Acts of the Apostolic See).

The secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that the document has two novelties. "In the first place, it makes more precise the definition of certain crimes, because in criminal law -- including in the realm of Church law -- it is necessary to be absolutely precise," he said.

In the second place, it makes the time of the prescription of these crimes twice as long and, therefore, of the period of time in which prosecutions may be undertaken. Now it is 10 years.

"For example, in the case of abuse by a sacred minister of a minor younger than 18 years, the time of prescription has been extended and begins to count when the minor reaches 18," the archbishop said.

In recent years all too frequently there has been a veritable "defamation" of the "priestly ministry, which is offended by the behavior of a few ministers, while virtually all priest behave in an exemplary way," Archbishop Bertone lamented.

It is urgent to "confirm the faithful´s confidence in their priests, especially parish priests [and] educators," he added.