CNS photo/Paul Haring
By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service
(Fifth in a series)
ROME — For six years during middle school and high school, I studied Latin as a foreign language. My teachers constantly repeated the phrase, “Lingua Latina non mortua est” or “the Latin language is not dead.” I am very glad that I listened to their constant exhortations because in this week’s seminars my class at the Gregorian studied canon law as it pertains to sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
In today’s blog, though I am not claiming to be an expert, I will briefly cover the “recent” history of canon law in terms of prosecuting offenders in the church. You can find a more detailed history on the Vatican website. It is my hope that this explanation will give you some insight into the changes that have taken place within church law, and where the law stands today. This will be helpful when you read about abuse cases that arise in the media, since those articles do not typically touch upon this subject.
Pope Benedict XV
First off, the full, original Code of Canon Law (which governs the entire Catholic Church) was promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1917. Five years later, an Instruction, known as Crimen Sollicitationis, was developed to create procedures for dealing with delicts or canonical crimes. These procedures, which were updated in 1962, were provided for dioceses to respond in a special way to sexual solicitations by priests that occurred strictly during the Sacrament of Penance. Other crimes known as “crimen pessimum,” which included the crime of sexual abuse of children, were treated similarly. It wasn’t until 1983 that an updated code was promulgated by St. John Paul II to more comprehensively codify the way to respond to the larger issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
You can find that major addition to the 1983 Code in Canon 1395 § 2 which states, “A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force of threats or publicly with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” In 1994, the age of minors was raised from 16 years old to 18 years old for the United (Read More)