My letter disagreeing with Archbishop Hart published in The Age and research into the latest published changes in Canon law confirms what I am saying.


About John Lilburne


More on this in my Journal of 5 May 2002


1150 K Tue 7 May 2002

I had a letter published in The Age newspaper today:

Archbishop can dismiss priests

I disagree with Archbishop Hart that only the pope can remove someone from the priesthood (The Age, 4/5).

According to canon law, dismissal from the priesthood can occur by the pope writing a rescript or as a penalty (canon 290). The penalty of dismissal from the clerical state is specifically listed as an option for a priest who has sex with a minor under the age of 16 (canon 1395).

Archbishop Hart is the judge for the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in Melbourne. He can exercise this personally or through others (canon 1419).

John Raymond Lilburne, Park Orchards

My letter was edited, with my last three sentences being removed. I also quoted the sentence I was disagreeing with: "Only the Pope can remove someone from the priesthood." I did not write the headline. But I am not concerned about these changes, my message is conveyed more succinctly. I think its publication will have a positive effect, particularly with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference meeting in Sydney this week.

I did some more research at the Mannix Library yesterday on this issue. A letter by Cardinal Ratzinger was published in Latin about procedures for dealing with grave offenses. The first seven are the sacraments, the Eucharist and Penance. The eighth is about about the sexual abuse of children.

... -- 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 ]

It does not change the points I made in the letter. Archbishop Hart can give the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. An appeal can be made. The Pope is able to reserve cases to himself (Canon 1405) and has made it an option for them to go to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in these cases.

2000 K Tue 7 May 2002

Perhaps Archbishop Hart's point was that the Pope was the only individual who can dismiss a priest for the clerical state. If Archbishop Hart did this he would be part of a collegiate tribunal of at least three judges. If this was his point it is correct, according to Canon 1425.1:

Every contrary custom being reprobated, the following cases are reserved to a collegiate tribunal of three judges:

... 2 penal cases: a) concerning offenses which can entail the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state ...

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 7 May 2002.

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