20 August 2002. Discussing issues of Church law regarding the accusations of sexual abuse in 1961 against Archbishop Pell.


About John Lilburne



Archbishop Pell accused

I believe Archbishop Pell's statement today:

"Certain allegations have been made about my conduct when I was a seminarian over 40 years ago.

The allegations against me are lies and I deny them totally and utterly. ..."

His statement included:

"... I welcome the inquiry and a chance to clear my name, recognising that I am not above civil and Church law. ..."

What would happen under Church law? Even if the allegations were proved, I doubt there would be a penalty for this. In 1961, at the age of about 20, he was not ordained, he was not a cleric. So I doubt that the procedures of Cardinal Ratzinger of 30 April 2001, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, would apply. It covered:

... -- A delict against morals, namely: the delict committed by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor below the age of 18 years.

Only these delicts, which are indicated above with their definition, are reserved to the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As often as an ordinary or hierarch has at least probable knowledge of a reserved delict, after he has carried out the preliminary investigation he is to indicate it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which unless it calls the case to itself because of special circumstances of things, after transmitting appropriate norms, orders the ordinary or hierarch to proceed ahead through his own tribunal. The right of appealing against a sentence of the first instance, whether on the part of the party or the party's legal representative, or on the part of the promoter of justice, solely remains valid only to the supreme tribunal of this congregation. ...

[This is from an unofficial English translation, published in Origins, 24 January 2002, Volume 31, No. 32, pages 528-529. The full Latin text of the letter is here at www.vatican.va ]

Since there is no allegation that an offence was committed by a cleric the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is unlikely to be involved.

But the procedure that is being followed is from the Australian document Towards Healing. This investigates allegations against a wider group: "Church personnel includes any cleric, member of a religious institute or other persons who are employed by a Church body, or appointed by a Church body to voluntary positions in which they work with children or young people, or engage in other forms of pastoral care."

Important sections from Towards Healing in this case are:

37.4 No Church investigation shall be undertaken in such a manner as to interfere in any way with the proper processes of criminal or civil law, whether they are in progress or contemplated for the foreseeable future. However, where the complainant has chosen not to report the matter to the police or other civil authority, or the civil authorities have decided not to take further action under the criminal law or child protection legislation, the Church authority must act on the complaint. ...

38.4.1 In the event that a complaint of abuse is received against a bishop or leader of a religious institute, or the accused person is living overseas, the Director should consult with the Chairpersons of the National Committee for Professional Standards concerning how to deal with the complaint. ...

38.8.2 If accused persons are asked to stand aside from any office they hold while the matter is pending, it is to be clearly understood that they are on leave and that no admissions of any kind are implied by this fact. Accused persons who are clergy or religious shall, therefore, receive their normal remuneration and other entitlements while the matter is pending and they are standing aside. They shall be provided with an appropriate place to live. Where possible, they should be given some suitable activity. They shall not engage in any public ministry during this time. ...

Posted by J.R. Lilburne 20 August 2002. I give what I have written on this page to the public domain.

Other sites:

ninemsn.com.au report

abc.net.au/news report "Pell faces abuse claim"

Archbishop Pell's statement

Towards Healing - Policy document of December 2000