Canon law newsletters show ongoing document
Kathleen A. Shaw
WORCESTER, MA TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
August 21, 2003
The Vatican recently said its 1962 directive concerning how
allegations of sexual abuse involving the sacrament of confession
are to be handled had not been in force for years, but newsletters
of the Canon Law Society of America show that discussions
of the document continued until last year.
Lawyers Daniel J. Shea of Houston and Carmen L. Durso of
Boston recently presented a copy of the Vatican document,
called in Latin "Crimen Sollicitationes" - or "On
the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitations"-
to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan in Boston.
The U.S. attorney told Mr. Shea last week that he is studying
the document. The lawyers are asking that the federal government
investigate what they see as an international conspiracy by
the Catholic church to cover up cases of sexual abuse by clergy.
The newsletters of the Canon Law Society show that officers
met in Rome in February 2002, a time when the churchwide sexual
abuse scandal broke open in Boston with new revelations about
the extent of clergy sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese.
In this meeting with representatives of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, the newsletter said, "Our
discussion at the Congregation focused on identification of
certain aspects of procedures for clergy sexual misconduct,
particularly the 1962 instruction "Crimen Sollicitationes"
and the more recent instruction "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis
Mr. Shea, who found "Sacramentorum Sactitatis Tutela"
on the Vatican Web site in 2002, said the English translation
clearly shows that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the
Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith, indicated that
the 1962 directive was in effect "until now." Mr.
Shea did not know the 1962 document existed until he saw it
footnoted in the Ratzinger document.
The 1962 directive, which was approved by Pope John XXII,
indicated strictest secrecy in handling these allegations.
It was sent to all bishops throughout the world and they were
instructed to keep the document secret.
The later document by Cardinal Ratzinger was intended to
bring the manner of handling sexual abuse complaints against
clergy in line with the new canon law code.
The newsletter did not give details of these discussions,
but said they also talked about "procedures and time
limits in the prosecution of particular cases."
During a 1996 meeting of Canon Law Society officers in Rome,
officers were told that the norms listed in the 1962 document
were under review by the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith. "New norms are required in light of the revision
of canon law. In the interim, the 1962 norms should be followed,
with obvious adaptations," the newsletter said.
The Roman Catholic church is governed by its own Code of
Canon Law, which was last revised in 1983. The church has
canon lawyers who are certified to interpret the law of the
church and to work within its internal system of jurisprudence.
These lawyers can be priests, lay people or members of religious
orders. Their main umbrella organization in this country is
the Canon Law Society of America.
David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of
Those Abused by Priests, said it is evident that the 1962
document was not an obscure document that expired 20 years
ago as the Vatican has said.
"I may disagree with Dan Shea on this, but I think the
significance of the document is more sociological than legal.
It is a window into the mind-set of the hierarchy," Mr.
The 1962 document is finding its way into civil lawsuits
across the United States as lawyers seek to prove that the
Vatican for years has encouraged secrecy and cover-ups regarding
sexual abuse allegations.
The issue got hotter last weekend when The Observer, based
in London, printed a link to the document and produced its
own story about the controversy. The story was then picked
up by newspapers throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland, India,
Taipei, Australia and other locations.
The Internet link to the document is based in Worcester.
Criminales.pdf was done by Timothy P. Staney of Worcester,
who first linked the document on his own Web site at www.timstaney.net.
It then spread to Web sites around the world.
Mr. Staney alleges in a lawsuit that he was sexually abused
by the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon and a religious education teacher,
Raymond Tremblay. Both assert their innocence and the suit
is pending. Mr. Staney alleges that sexual abuse by Rev. Gagnon
involved the sacrament of confession.
Karen A. Pedersen of Fitchburg alleges in her suit that the
Rev. Robert E. Kelley used his own confession ritual, which
involved bathing her naked in the rectory, to absolve her
of sin, according to her lawyer, Gary LeBlanc of Gardner.
The Vatican has asserted that the document, which it said
is authentic, was revised in the late 1960s and again in 1983
with the new Code of Canon Law. Vatican officials also said
the procedures were revised again in 2001.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the secrecy
called for in the document was intended to protect the "rights
and dignity" of both accuser and accused, just as many
civil court procedures are kept confidential.