John Lilburne's journal about an editorial in The Age newspaper "Child abuse is a sin and a crime".



About John Lilburne


Related pages in

Priest's Rights in Melbourne

Journal of 18 December 2001 Archbishop Hart and Canon Law





1111 L Sat 12 Jan 2002

Today The Age newspaper has an editiorial on the issue I have been writing about for the last few days. It has the headline: "Child abuse is a sin and a crime". As with The Australain's suggestions yesterday, I disagree with the proposed remedy of mandatory reporting.

The Age has a suggestion: "Priests who are being investigated should be suspended from duty". If that were followed then there could be no investigation without the suspect being alerted to it.

I will concentrate on a part of today's editorial:

Some Australian bishops have also worried that the canon (church) laws on this matter, which require two warnings before gradual restrictions of the priest's duties, could allow some paedophile priests to continue to harm children. Instead, the Australian bishops believe any priest who poses a risk to children should be removed immediately.

This seems based on the interview with Archbishop Hart I discussed on 18 December 2001. Is this really what Canon Law says and is it unreasonable?

The Code of Canon Law provides a procedure for the removal and transfer of Parish Priests, in canons 1740 to 1752. This "removal" is not about them ceasing to be priests, but going to another job or parish. When it happens the parish priest is to "leave the parochial house free as soon as possible, and hand over everything pertaining to the parish" (Canon 1747). So it is similar to an eviction.

What is the time delay imposed on the bishop to do this? According to canons 1742 - 1745 he needs to:

1. Discuss it with two priests
2. Persuade the priest to resign his parish within 15 days
3. If he does not, the bishop gives another time to do so.
4. If the priest does not respond the bishop can decree that he is out.
5. If the priest opposes the removal the bishop lets him put his arguments, discusses it again with the two priests and then can remove him.

This stability of residence only seems to apply to those a bishop has appointed as Parish Priest. I expect an administrator or assistant priest can be told to be somewhere else the next day.

This removal does not require a particular offence by the Parish Priest. The reasons are given in Canon 1741. It includes "a manner of acting which causes grave harm or disturbance to ecclsiastical communion; ineptitude or permanent illness of mind or body ...".

Canon 1395.2 deals with having sex with children:

A cleric who has offended in other ways against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the offence was committed by force, or by threats, or in public, or with a minor under the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.

The penalty of "dismissal from the clerical state" is completely different to removal of a priest to somewhere else. It effects are explained in Canons 292:

A cleric who loses the clerical state in accordance with the law loses thereby the rights that are proper to the clerical state and is no longer bound by any obligations of the clerical state, without prejudice to Canon 291. He is prohibited from exercising the power of order, without prejudice to Canon 976. He is automatically deprived of all offices and roles and of any delegated power.

A removed priest continues to be paid, receive "remuneration" (in accordance with Canon 281). But according to Canon 1350:

1. In imposing penalties on a cleric, except in the case of dismissal from the clerical state, care must always be taken that he does not lack what is necessary for his worthy support.

2. If a person is truly in need because he has been dismissed from the clerical state, the Ordinary is to provide in the best way possible.

There is no waiting period for one dismissed from the clerical state to be removed from the house.

The Australian Catholic bishops, in their Statement of Repentance of 7 March 2000 included:

When confronted with sexual abuse, and abuse of authority generally, we did not always respond appropriately, and many people suffered serious harm.

Rather than blaming Canon Law, which in the Oath of Fidelity they have sworn to "insist on the observance of", they should be working to implement it properly.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne 12 January 2002. Canon Law extracts from The Code of Canon Law, HarperCollins, 1997.

Links to other sites:

The Age editorial "Child abuse is a sin and a crime"