Clarification regarding Vatican Document on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests
1. On 18 May 2001, a Letter was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, and was subsequently distributed to individual bishops throughout the world.
2. The Letter was “On More Grave Delicts Reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, and dealt with a number of matters including sacrilege of the Eucharist, violation of the seal of confession and child sexual abuse. (“Delict” is a canonical term for “crime”).
3. The Letter was subsequently published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the publicly-available journal of record of the Holy See, on 5 November 2001, and was thereby promulgated as Church law.
4. As is usual, the Letter was published in Latin, and at present there is no official English translation available.
5. The Letter clarifies and confirms the role and competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in relation to certain delicts or crimes, including child sexual abuse. It is in continuity with a number of previous documents issued by the Congregation (formerly the Holy Office) over the past 80 years.
6. With regard to the issue of child sexual abuse, there is very little that is new in the document, except that the upper age limit for victims is extended to 18 years (formerly 16 years) and the limitation period for taking action against an alleged priest perpetrator is extended to 10 years from the victim’s 18th birthday (formerly 5 years). The Letter also confirms the obligation of bishops to notify the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of certain allegations against priests.
7. As is usual in Church courts (eg Marriage Tribunals) and in the internal disciplinary procedures of many other organisations, the proceedings are dealt with in camera.
8. The Letter does not materially affect or change the current policy and practice of the Irish bishops regarding child protection. In particular, the document “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response” published in January 1996 remains in place, as does the Recommended Reporting Policy to the Civil Authorities set out in Section 2.2 of that document.
9. It is hoped that the Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will clarify and strengthen the Church’s procedures and processes for dealing with child sexual abuse.
10. In the meantime, the recent establishment of a new Child Protection Office by the Irish Bishops’ Conference is an affirmation of the ongoing commitment of the Irish bishops to the welfare of children and young people, and to victims of child abuse.
9 January 2002
Catholic Communications Office: (01) 601 6700
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797