0940 K Sat 6 Jul 2002
Today The Age has a front page article about allegations of sexual abuse against a Catholic priest in Melbourne: Father James Barry Whelan.
I have linked to Martin Daly's articles in The Age. I see both as important reading for anyone interest in the Catholic Church in Melbourne and more generally the challenge of dealing with abuse by Catholic clergy.
I will focus on the issue of Canon law. The headline is "Rome backed sex-case priest". From the article:
The Melbourne Vicar General, Monsignor Christopher Prowse is reported as making a statement yesterday:
So what does this mean? Monsignor Prowse believes Archbishop Pell did the right thing by suspending him, but a Vatican court did not. I don't know the facts. But either a case can be brought against him for dismissal from the clerical state or it cannot. Did Archbishop Pell try to bring such a case? I suspect he suspended him without bringing a case. I think this is what would concern the Vatican and me.
According to the Vicar General's statement:
The article reports Father Whelan as having resigned on 27 June 2002. I suppose that means he is no longer in the position of Assistant Priest at the parish of St Kilda West.
These are my questions and I think (if an answer were given) it would be "Yes" to each:
What basis is there for saying that Father Whelan does not have the faculties to administer the sacraments? Faculties can be removed for confession, but even then, according to Canon 976:
Monsignor Prowse said Father Whelan does not have the faculty to preach. Canon law seems to envisage that a bishop can remove this faculty. According to Canon 764:
Its a powerful provision. I am unsure how it would be done. It would seem enable bishops to go a long way towards suspending a priest without a Tribunal case, although he could still celebrate the sacraments. Perhaps this is what Father Whelan's case to the Vatican was about.
Given the allegations, I believe an appropriate response is a Tribunal case. Following a just process the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state could be given.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 6 July 2002.