What the Holy See does when a cleric is accused of sexual abuse of a minor

In the future, when we are discussing the present controversies with people, we must be well-informed, ready to explain.

From the gentlemanly Sandro Magister comes this:

After an Accusation, Here is What Happens at the Vatican

The guidelines of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith on the steps to be taken when sexual abuse against minors is alleged

by Sandro Magister

ROME, April 13, 2010 – As of yesterday, the document reproduced below has been available on the Vatican website, summarizing the procedures in use for a few years in the Catholic Church in cases of sexual abuse against minors by persons in holy orders.

By minors is meant persons under the age of 18, while by acts of pedophilia is meant abuses committed against children who have not reached puberty. [What is missing here is the distinction about ephebophilia.]

Of the approximately three thousand allegations sent to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith from 2001 until today, of abuse against minors committed over the past fifty years, the cases of pedophilia strictly speaking are 10 percent of the total. 60 percent of the cases are of sexual attraction for adolescents of the same sex, [ephebophilia, right?] while the remaining 30 percent involve relations with teenage girls.

Most of the cases examined have ended with administrative and disciplinary sanctions against the accused: a faster and more effective procedure than an actual legal trial. [Because of the changes to procedures which Card. Ratzinger strove to have implemented.]

For reporting abuse to the civil authorities, the Holy See orders that local laws be followed. This means that in countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal culture and in France, criminal charges are obligatory. Where this is not the case, the Holy See encourages the victims to approach the courts themselves.

The changes announced in the last paragraph of the document specifically concern the abolition of the statute of limitations, which since 2001 has been 10 years, starting from the victim’s eighteenth birthday. Even now, however, the statute of limitations is not binding, and allegations are also accepted for actions that occurred longer ago.

So here is the text of the guidelines, in its official English version:


Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations

The applicable law is the Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" (MP SST) of 30 April 2001 together with the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

This is an introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists.

A: Preliminary Procedures

The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

If the allegation has a semblance of truth [then] the case is referred to the CDF. The local bishop transmits all the necessary information to the CDF and expresses his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long term.

Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.

During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victims. Indeed, the local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese. This is part of his ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the bishop’s discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding.

B: Procedures authorized by the CDF

The CDF studies the case presented by the local bishop and also asks for supplementary information where necessary.

The CDF has a number of options:

B1 Penal Processes

The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct a judicial penal trial before a local Church tribunal. Any appeal in such cases would eventually be lodged to a tribunal of the CDF. [If there is a local trial, the appeal goes to the CDF.]

The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct an administrative penal process before a delegate of the local bishop assisted by two assessors. The accused priest is called to respond to the accusations and to review the evidence. [This is streamlined.] The accused has a right to present recourse to the CDF against a decree condemning him to a canonical penalty. The decision of the Cardinals members of the CDF is final. [It is unclear to me if this means the plenary meeting of the Cardinal members of the Congregation, or the smaller groups which meet regularly during the year.  Also, you would think that the POPE has the final word.  But this is the way it is set up under the direction of this Pope.  Also, you should know that a Congregation isn’t just a building: it is the body of the members appointed who are gathered together "congregated".  This includes Cardinals and also other prelates from around the world.  The members in Rome have regular meeetings.  This is why these curial appointments, such as that of Archbishop Burke, is important.  Some Cardinal or other prelate might come to Rome once in a while, but those who are there have their influence in the actual day to day workings of the other dicasteries to which he is appointed.  Archbp. Burke is the head of the Segnatura, but he belongs also, for example, to the Congregation for Bishops.  But I digress.]

Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state. The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures. [It is unclear to me what these "damages" might include.  I am not sure that this is monetary.]

B2 Cases referred directly to the Holy Father

In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state. There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree.

The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood [That is the best way to express this: dispensed from the obligations that come from being a cleric.] and want to return to the lay state. The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae"). [Remember this phrase and this context when people criticize then Prefect Cardinal Ratzinger for speaking about "the good of the Church" when dealing with the case of the priest in California who was requesting to be dispensed from the clerical state.]

B3 Disciplinary Measures

In cases where the accused priest has admitted to his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest. Such decrees are imposed through a penal precept which would entail a canonical penalty for a violation of the conditions of the decree, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state. Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees. The decision of the CDF is final.

C: Revision of MP SST

For some time the CDF has undertaken a revision of some of the articles of Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela," in order to update the said Motu Proprio of 2001 [NB:] in the light of special faculties granted to the CDF by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The proposed modifications under discussion will not change the above-mentioned procedures (A, B1-B3).

Now you know something more about the procedures.

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  1. Ligusticus says:

    Father! Father!



  2. ephebophilia is attraction (exclusive?) to pubescent or postpubescent teenagers. I suppose clerics who abuse boys would be homosexual ephebophiles. Whether homosexual men are more inclined to be attracted to the young than heterosexual men is a question that would stir up some debate but when it comes to the priesthood and religious life any sexual activity with anyone, let alone the young and vulnerable, is unacceptable.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: [ephebophilia, right?]

    Please, no! Ephebophilia, Pedophilia, Freebophilia, it’s all the same to the ordinary newspaper reader or pew sitter.

    I myself had never heard the term “ephebophilia” until it was introduced in discussions of evidently peculiarly Catholic problems with obviously deliberate obfuscatory intent.

    Enough, already! Just call it “homosexual abuse of adolescent boys” and everybody will know what it means. Why perform verbal calisthenics just to avoid using the word “homosexual”?

  4. “…sexual attraction for adolescents of the same sex, [ephebophilia, right?]”

    Yes, but not entirely. Ephebophelia in my understanding is a sexual attraction to adolescents in general and can be expressed either homosexually or heterosexually.

    Henry Edwards,

    I don’t believe that the term is always intended to obfuscate, but rather to make clear that lumping ephebophiles together with pedophiles is inadequate. It is particuarly helpful in this case because it makes more clear the role of sexual identity. Here is a study that speaks about this:


  5. Henry,

    One more thing:

    “Enough, already! Just call it homosexual abuse of adolescent boys”

    Amen to that.

  6. Nathan says:

    Henry, I’ll call you and raise you one. Just call it abuse of adolescent boys by sodomy. Let’s call out the sinful behavior for what it actually is and get away from the squishy terminology captured and twisted by the proponents of identity politics.

    In Christ,

  7. Clinton says:

    Evidently some news outlets are spinning this publication of the guidelines, and leading readers to believe that it is only yesterday
    that the Vatican “finally” directed that sexual abuse of minors be reported to the authorities. I ran into a friend who was livid about
    this news, aghast that “only now does the Church demand that perverts be reported–what’s wrong with you people?”. My
    explanation that these guidelines have been in place for years was met with skepticism. “Of course *you’d* say that! If they’ve been
    around for years, why are they news now?”


  8. Ligusticus says:

    (Update re. the Euronews poll, about Bertone: probably they expected most people to overwhelmingly vote against the Cardinal, and for the gay activists. ‘Alas’, after two and half hours, the results are 50% pro-Bertone and 47% pro-gays. Nevertheles, Euronews , on tv, still continues to give the result 52% pro gays , 45% pro-Bertone, as the ‘present’ result. Anyway, there must be still many hours of open poll ahead..)

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    I think the description used by the Holy See is fine, and I agree with Henry Edwards. Ephebophilia seems to me to just be a way to get around using the right words: homosexual statutory rape.

    Statutory rape is sex with a minor, whether it’s said to be consensual or not, since minors cannot give consent. It’s homosexual because it’s same sex.

  10. EXCHIEF says:

    My only reservation is that the policy should require notification of the authorities IN ALL CASES not just where such reporting is required by law. If civil authorities refuse to act the burden is on them. It looks, given the current policy, that the Church is doing what it must do and perhaps not doing what it should do.

  11. liberanos says:


    I respectfully disagree. It is not always in the best interest of a victim to have to deal with civil authorities. The question becomes one of protecting the community. In those cases where the victim does NOT desire the involvement of civil authorities, if the perp agrees to remain under the jurisdiction of the Church (does not request dispensation) such that his freedom can be restricted and monitored, and if local statutes do not require reporting I don’t have a problem with that.

  12. cmm says:


    I do not agree with you. The reason is that experience shows that the plan you outlined is not implemented in practice, as the examples coming out now amply demonstrate. I have two teenage children and if I was living in, say, Greece or Italy or Spain or Portugal, the policy would make me very uneasy.

  13. Agnes says:

    Rape and sodomy of a minor.

    That description should about cover it.

  14. liberanos says:


    I am not certain which of the ‘coming out now’ examples you are referring to; civil authorities declined to prosecute Fr. Murphy, and the Oakland priest does not appear to have ‘re-offended’under church supervision, but only after his dispensation was granted and he had married.

    I did a quick search of my local sex offender registry. Of the eight registered offenders living closest to me, six were convicted of various vile offenses against children (14 and under). None of them served more than three years for their crimes. I’d like to find some statistics on how frequently civil authorities decline to prosecute and convictions vs acquittals, but those are harder to come up with. I’ll keep looking. Bottom line is, I don’t think secular authorities manage these cases any better.

  15. dans0622 says:


    In section B1, these guidelines do not match up exactly with what Msgr. Scicluna has said, as reported on the Vatican website. Here, it is suggested that the diocesan administrative process can conclude with the actual imposition of a penalty, which can be subject to recourse at the CDF. However, the Msgr.’s outline of this particular procedure says: “c) The CDF may decide to authorize a penal administrative procedure according to can. 1720 CIC (can. 1486 CCEO). If the Ordinary is of the opinion that the case merits the imposition of the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state, he must refer his opinion to the CDF which will, in turn, decide to impose the penalty or not. Against such a decision recourse may be made to the Feria IV.”

    These remarks of Msgr. Scicluna were made in 2004 but were recently uploaded to the Vatican website. Perhaps there has been some change in the procedure since 2004. I’m not sure who composed this “Guide” that was made public a couple days ago. In any case, it is my understanding that the recourse against a diocesan administrative procedure is to the members of the CDF who happen to be present at a Wednesday meeting, not a plenary meeting. (It could take too long for recourse to be concluded if it had to wait for a plenary meeting.)

  16. worm says:

    Louie V., the article you suggest (http://www.psychwww.com/psyrelig/plante.html) suffers from the same problem I have seen in almost every other “expert opinion.” That article makes the following 2 claims:

    “Homosexual men are not more likely to engage in illegal sexual behaviors with children and adolescents than heterosexual men.”

    “80% of all priests who in fact abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent boys”

    The only way I can see the math working is either, at least 80% of priests are homosexual, making the rate of illegal behavior the same or lower or some technical definition of homosexual in which a man who engages in sex with an adolescent boy is not necessarily homosexual. I have yet to see anyone explain this rather simple and obvious objection.

  17. catholicmidwest says:


    Even though we have a few cases who were able to account for many victims, I tend to agree with you. The math doesn’t work if you accept both of the statements you’ve given. But when did bad math ever bother anyone in the USA?

    If you hate math, stop reading now.

    All of the priests were either homosexual (M), heterosexual (T) or both (O). I assert the point, rather common-sensically, that those acting CASE-BY-CASE homosexually were homosexuals (if only for that case) and those acting CASE-BY-CASE heterosexually were heterosexuals (if only for that case). I don’t know how else anyone would classify them if that doesn’t follow. Additionally, those who were both could be classified in one or the other class CASE-BY-CASE, therefore O=M or O=T depending on CASE.

    {No mind-reading now, that’s the abnormal psychology class down the hall. We’re talking about what really transpired here.}

    So supposing we have 100 priests, we have M+T=100. And supposing that homosexuals and heterosexuals are equally likely to abuse, then it would have to be true that p(M)=p(H), where p is probability.

    Now, let’s say that 5% (a nice round number reasonably close to the real data) were abusers of one person each. This would mean an abuser rate of 5%. But if 80% were same-sex abusers, then 4 abuses were same-sex and 1 was different-sex. Which means that 4 acted homosexually, and 1 acted heterosexually. But this violates the dictum that p(M) = p(T). It just doesn’t work mathematically….

    UNLESS….the homosexuals (M) are 4 times more likely to abuse then the heterosexuals (T). Then it could work, since there are 4 same-sex abuses to 1 different-sex abuse in our example. This is frequency rather than likelihood. However, even though we did have some outstandingly evil repeat abusers, the John Jay study revealed that most abusers are not repeat abusers. It also revealed that no few abusers had enough victims to make up the slack for the same-sex abuse numbers. Once again, the math simply doesn’t work.

    Therefore, it cannot be the case that both of the following statements are true:
    a) homosexuals are no more likely to abuse than heterosexuals.
    b) 80% of the abusers were same-sex abusers.

    There is concrete evidence of b.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    No implication of how many homosexuals are in the priesthood is necessary or sufficient for explaining the data, beyond what would be required to explain the actual damage in the case that every single one of them were an abuser. In which case, it simply turns out to be a headcount.

    It’s probably not the case that all homosexuals are abusers, but that fact isn’t given in the John Jay report, of course, because few own up to it if they are. There are probably more, and that’s all that can be said. Beyond that, we just don’t know.

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