Over the past few days newspapers in Melborne have been reporting
on how the Melbourne archdiocese deals with accusations of sexual
abuse against Catholic clergy. There seems to have been a successful
appeal by priests who have been accused of sexual abuse and have
lost their rights to celebrate Mass publicly, hear confessions
and administer Holy Communion.
The story began in The Sunday Age on 9 December 2001:
Sex-abuse priests win Rome appeal
by Larry Schwartz
Three Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse have successfully
appealed to the Vatican about hte way their cases were handled
by the Archdiocese of Melborne under a system implemented by
the then archbishop, George Pell.
The ruling by the church's Council for Clergy in Rome challenges
the authority of the archdiocese's Commission into Sexual Abuse,
which removed priests who were implicated in abuse from parishes,
and took away their rights to celebrate Mass publicly, hear confessions
and administer Holy Communion. ...
In a brochure "Sexual Abuse: The Melbourne Archdiocese
Response" Archbishop Pell wrote:
The Church has procedures in place already aimed at preventing
any recurrence of sexual abuse and to guard against the re-employment
of offending clergy. If convicted of any serious offence, a priest
is withdrawn immediately from all public and pastoral duties.
According to the Code of Canon Law, Canon 290:
Sacred ordination once validly received never becomes invalid.
A cleric, however, loses the clerical state:
1. by a judgement of a court or an administrative decree, declaring
the ordination invalid;
2. by the penalty of dismissal lawfully imposed;
3. by a rescript of the Apostolic See; this rescript, however,
is granted by the Apostolic See to deacons for only grave reasons
and to priests for only the gravest of reasons.
Canon 291 says this does not mean a loss of the obligation
to celibacy. Canon 292 it explains that the loss of the clerical
state means no longer having the rights or obligations of a cleric.
For example they would no longer be required to wear suitable
ecclesiastical dress (Canon 284) and would be free to practice
commerce or trade (Canon 286) or volunteer for the armed services
What is the situation with Peter Waters? According to the
front page of The Sunday Age:
Two years ago the commission ruled that Mr Santamaria had
been sexually abused by Father Peter Waters, one of the three
priests to have successfully appealed to Rome. Father Waters
formally refused to accept the commission's jurisdiction and
denied allegations that he abused Mr Santamaria, a former altar
boy and choir member, in the late 1970s.
Does he have a right to hear confessions? This is discussed
in Canons 965 - 986. Particularly relevant seems to be:
Canon 970. The faculty to hear confessions is not to be given
except to priests whose suitability has been established, either
by examination or by some other means.
Canon 974.1 Neither the local Ordinary nor the competent Superior
may, except for a grave reason, revoke the faculty habitually
to hear confessions. ...
So Archbishop Pell, as the local Ordinary, would seem to have
a grave reason for revoking this. Exceptions are given in the
Code for cases in danger of death, when any priest could hear
Can he celebrate the Mass publicly? Canons 900 - 911 discuss
this. The following seems particularly relevant:
Canon 900.1 The only minister who, in the person of Christ,
can bring into being the sacrament of the Eucharist is a validly
2. Any priest who is not debarred by canon law may lawfully
celebrate the Eucharist, provided the provisions of the following
canons are observed.
Canon 906. A priest may not celebrate the eucharistic Sacrifice
without the participation of at least one of the faithful, unless
there is a good and reasonable cause for doing so.
About Canon 900, John Huels wrote in The Pastoral Companion,
Priests can be deprieved of their right to celebrate Mass
in virtue of a canonical penalty (cf. cans. 1331.1.2; 1332; 1333.1.1;
1338.2); or if they have lost the clerical state (cf. cans. 290;
292; 1336.1.5); or if they have incurred an irregularity or impediment
to the exercise of their orders (cf. can. 1044).
Looking at these, I don't see a justification for him not
being able to celebrate Mass publicly. Either he should not celebrate
Mass at all, or he should be able to celebrate Mass properly
-- with the faithful, in a Church, etc.
A lot about the case is not known. The Sunday Age article
had "details of the appeals are not known" and:
Dr Pell, who is now Archbishop of Sydney, declined to comment
on the Vatican's ruling, referring inquiries to Melbourne's current
archbishop Denis Hart, who did not respond to a request for an
But the archdicoese's vicar-general, Christopher Prowse, said
it was still too early to know the ramifications of the appeals.
Monsignor Prowse declined to give details of the Vatican's
Today there is a story on page 5 of The Australian:
Diocese defies Vatican on abuse
Melbourne's Catholic archbishop has defended the way the church
deals with sex abuse claims after the Vatican raised doubts about
the procedure and granted appeals to three priests. ...
A letter in The Age on 11 December expressed the understandable
reaction: "the church confirms that the archdiocese is fulfilling
its obligations to the priests: clothing, housing etc. Who ensured
that obligations to children were being fulfilled". With
what I have written about the rights of
instituted lectors I think its important that the Church
respect everyone's rights.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 12 December 2001. Last updated
7 April 2002. Canon Law extracts from The Code of Canon Law,