Pope Francis abolishes pontifical

Sex, Lies and Secret Codes (Extract) Page 47 plus endnotes

Sex lies secret codes

Title: Sex, lies and Secret Codes Extract from Sex, Lies and Secret Codes page 47 plus endnotes

Author: Doyle, Sipe and Wall

Publication: Volt Press

Date: 2006

The Vatican Secret Directive

The Vatican issued legislation in 1922 about solicitation and other forms of clergy sexual crime and again in 1962 when Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) approved the publication of De Modo Procedendi in Causis Solicitationis, a special procedur­al law for processing cases of solicitation. Unlike all previous papal legislation on this subject, these documents were buried in the deepest secrecy. Although the 1962 document was promulgated in the ordinary manner and then printed and distributed by the Vatican Press, it was never publicized in the official Vatican legal bulletin, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. [105] The document was sent to every bishop and major religious superior in the world. The dispositive section of the document is preceded by an order whereby the docu­ment is to be kept in the diocesan secret archives and not published nor commented upon by anyone. No explicit rea­son was given for this unusual secrecy, nor was any justification given for the document or some of the innovations contained in it.

The 1922 document bears the same title as that of 1962. However, it is still buried in secrecy; it has never been located and has not been made available even to canon lawyers. [105a] There is a 1959 letter of Bishop Francis Leipzig from Baker, Washington, that makes specific reference to the document when he appointed a notary in a case “De Crimine Pessimo, which is now pending before our tribunal?’ The other sources of confirmation of the existence and nature of the document are footnotes in scholarly articles. They identify the content when they comment that the sexual abuse of a minor by any cleric has consistently been reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and any questions involving the application of penalties at that time for past incidents could still only be resolved by that congregation. [105b]

The 1962 document is a procedural law text providing detailed steps for the process to be followed when prosecuting accusations of solicitation. Heretofore, the bishops were to fol­low the general law of the code in processing cases. The new document introduced several significant elements, including an exceptional degree of confidentiality imposed on the docu­ment itself and the people involved in processing cases.

Until 1962, the official policy had been publicly known. The 1917 code provided a relatively open process for dealing with sexual abuse by clerics. Confidentiality was required to protect reputations, yet the entire issue was not enshrouded in this highest level of secrecy.

The 1962 legislation, a reflection of the church’s policy on clergy sexual crimes, introduced the following innovations:

  • Local ordinaries (bishops and heads of religious orders) were given the right to process cases cov­ered in this document; however, they retain the option of sending them to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Holy Office for prosecution.
  • Tribunal and other church personnel who were involved in processing cases were bound by the church’s highest degree of confidentiality—the Secret of the Holy Office—to maintain total and perpetual secrecy; those who violated this secrecy were automatically excommunicated and the absolution, or lifting, of this excommunication was reserved to the pope himself.
  • Even the accuser and witnesses were obliged to take the oath of secrecy. Although the penalty of auto­matic excommunication was not attached to the violation of their oath, the official conducting the prosecution could, in individual cases, threaten accusers and witnesses with automatic excommuni­cation for breaking the secret.
  • Anonymous accusations were not automatically ruled out, though they were generally rejected; they were to be considered and acted upon if circum­stances required and if there appeared to be some semblance of veracity to the accusation.
  • Title V of the document specifically included homo­sexual acts between clerics and members of their own sex (Par. 70), bestiality, and sexual acts of any kind with children (Par. 73). The document used the Latin word “impubes” (lit. beardless) taken to mean “before the age of reason;” which is defined in Canon 88 as seven or under. The code also contains a canon pro­hibiting sex with minors, which is defined in canon law as a person sixteen or under. A careful reading of the relevant paragraphs of the 1962 document (Par. 71—73) leads to some confusion as to whom the crimes apply. It is clear that sex with children and with males of any age, as well as sex with animals, is included; is unclear if sex with young girls is.

The other sex crimes included under Title V are not crimes connected with solicitation but the actual sexual abuse itself. These are to be processed in the same manner as crimes of solicitation. Thus the three classes of clergy sexu­al abuse were cloaked for the first time in the highest degree of secrecy.

Little was known about the 1962 document until refer­ence to it was included in a letter sent by the CDF to every bishop in 2001. Titled Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, that letter dealt with grave crimes reserved for consideration to that same Vatican office. [106] The 1962 document had been issued prior to the promulgation of the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983, and therefore would, under ordinary circumstances, have lost its legal force by then. Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, however, clearly indicates that the 1962 document had been in force until May 2001.

When the existence of the 1962 document was publicly revealed—in March 2003—it surprised many bishops and canon lawyers who claimed they had not known of its exis­tence. Furthermore, there is little if any evidence that the document was ever referred to in any of the hundreds of civil cases brought against dioceses and religious communi­ties over the last fifteen years of the twentieth century.

The 1962 document is significant because it reflects the church’s insistence on maintaining the highest degree of secrecy regarding the worst sexual crimes perpetrated by cler­ics. The document does not say why it was issued, nor is any reason given for the imposition of extreme secrecy and the inclusion of other crimes in Title V. One can only presume that cases or concerns that had been brought to the attention of the Vatican authorities had prompted the decree.

Because the archives of the Holy Office, now known as the CDF, are closed to outside scrutiny, it is impossible to determine the number of cases referred to it between 1962 and the present. Moreover, local dioceses are prohibited from ever revealing the very existence of cases, much less the relevant facts.

The public exposure of clergy sexual abuse of youth that began in the mid-1980s was mistakenly believed by many to be a new phenomenon, which of course it was not. Yet, despite a series of high-profile cases from around the world, the Vatican issued no disciplinary documents until 2001. The pope had made several statements about clerical sexual abuse, but this was the first attempt by the Vatican to take concrete steps to contain the problem. This document, which is a set of special procedural norms, is not exclusive­ly about sex abuse, although that is the predominant theme. It is about the processing of certain crimes considered by the Vatican authorities to be so serious that their prosecution is reserved to the Vatican itself.

The 2001 document reflects much that is found in the 1962 procedural norms. There are significant develop­ments however:

  • The bishop or other superior of an alleged perpe­trator of sexual abuse was obliged to send the results of his preliminary investigation to the Vatican, and officials there would decide if the case would be processed in the Vatican or returned to the local diocese for prosecution.
  • The canonical age of a minor was raised from 16 to 18.
  • The statute of limitations was extended to ten years and, in the case of sexual abuse of a minor, this time would begin to run from the victim’s eigh­teenth birthday.
  • All officials involved in processing cases were required to be priests.
  • Files of cases completed on the local levels were to be sent to the Vatican for retention.
  • The Pontifical Secret, formerly known as the Secret of the Holy Office, was imposed on all officials con­nected to any cases, but no mention was made of imposing the secret on accusers or witnesses.

This 2001 document reflects the same attitude of exclu­sivity and secrecy that has marked the church’s attitude toward clergy sex crimes from the early twentieth century to the present. [107] Although some of these sex crimes are also criminal acts in secular society there is no requirement or recommendation to report accused clerics to civil authori­ties in any Vatican documents from the eighteenth century to the present. Indeed, private statements by high-ranking and influential church officials reveal a highly defensive and obstructionist attitude. Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., for­mer rector of the Gregorian University and dean of its canon law department, has stated that church leaders should attempt to solve abuse cases themselves without referring them to civil authorities in order to avoid future civil impli­cations. [108]  A Baltimore Sun article dated May 22, 2002 cites Archbishop (now a cardinal and president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts) Julian Herranz as saying that bishops should not be required to turn files on abusive priests over to civil authorities. Other news sources cite church officials who blame the U.S. secu­lar media for escalating the sex abuse issue and even of per­secuting the Catholic Church. [109]

The defensive reaction of high-ranking churchmen and influential Catholic media reflects a long-standing attitude at the highest level of church authority: denial and blame-shifting. Church leadership now, as in the past, has strongly resisted any attempts to study its own role in the unsuccessful handling of abuse cases. It is even more resistant to any consideration of the viability of mandatory celibacy itself.

original endnotes

  1. 105. Acta Apostolicae Sedis or Acts of the Apostolic See is the offi­cial periodical that contains Vatican legislation. Canon 9 of the 1917 Code states that official publication takes place through the

Canon Law Society of America. Guide to the Implementation of the U.S. Bishops’ Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, 2003.

105b Cf. Instructio Supremae S. Congregationis S. Officii, De modo procedendi in causis sollicitationis, June 9, 1922; and Instructio Supremae Sacrae Congregationis Sancti Officii, De modo procedendi in causis sollicitationis, March 16, 1962; No. 73, De crimine pessimo.

106Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, May 18, 2001, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 93 (2001), pp. 785-788.

107 It is ironic that six months prior to the promulgation of the 2001 legislation that imposed secrecy, Pope John Paul II stated in an address to the church in Oceania that the Church is seeking open and just procedures to respond to complaints in this area, and is unequivocally committed to compassionate and effective care for victims, their families, the whole community and the offenders themselves.” Ecclesia in Oceania, November 22, 2001, par. 49.

108Certamente non ci sembra un comportamento pastorale quello di un vescovo o di un superiore che, ricevuta la denuncia, informano del fatto l’autorita giudiziaria civile, per evitare di essere implicati nel processo civil che la vittima potrebbe intraprendere.” La Civilta Cattolica, quaderno 3646, May 18, 2002, pp. 352-353.

Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras compared U.S. Media cov­erage to Stalinist persecution of the church (Reuters, June 7, 2002). Cardinal Iniguez of Guadalajara, Mexico, blamed the media for exaggerating the problem (Zenit News Service, June 10, 2002). American Cardinal Avery Dulles stated in an interview with the Boston Globe, April 17, 2002: “I don’t think there’s any great crisis in the U.S. … It’s really practically no news. To the extent it’s a crisis, it’s created by the news media. I suppose every individ­ual case is terrible but it is not something peculiar to the Catholic church”. Finally, the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire (June 7, 2002) severely criticized U.S. attorneys for being partly to blame for the crisis.

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