Congregation for the Clergy, The common good and the imposition of temporary limits on the exercise of priestly ministry, July 2008, Private.


The decree presented here, issued by the Congregation for the Clergy, upholds the recourse made by a priest against the decree of his diocesan bishop, which, in effect, permanently suspended him from ministry, citing can. 223, §2 as justification. The recourse was initially presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which found that the allegations of sexual abuse did not constitute a grave delict because the alleged abuse took place before the priest was a cleric. It was later transferred to the Congregation for the Clergy for a decision.




Congregatio Pro Clericis

Decree

Prot. N. _______

Whereas, the Reverend _______, a priest of the Diocese of _______, ordained on _______ 1990, was accused in 2002 of several instances of sexual abuse with minors that were alleged to have occurred in 198__ or 198__, prior to his becoming a cleric;

whereas, in 2004, after a lengthy treatment of the case in the Diocese of _______, the acts of the case were transmitted to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith;

whereas, by letter dated _____ March 2005 (Prot. N. _______) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined that the accusations did not constitute a gravius delictum because the alleged action was reported to have occurred prior to Father _______ having become a cleric;

whereas, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the aforesaid letter stated that “if it were not a cause of grave scandal among the faithful and if the priest does not constitute a risk to minors, Your Excellency may wish to give Rev. _______ a pastoral placement within the diocese, taking into consideration canon 223 §2 CIC”;

whereas, after conducting an investigation, on __May 2006, the Most Reverend _______, Ordinary of the Diocese of _______, issued a decree pursuant to can. 223 §2 (the “Decree”) imposing a temporary limit on the exercise of the priestly rights of Father _______ and enjoining him from performing any public ministry “in view of the common good, to minimize the danger of grave scandal, and due to the lack of resolution of certain questions regarding his fitness for presbyteral ministry;”

whereas, the temporary disposition enacted is continually renewed upon its expiration (most recently on ___ December 2007 and having effect until ___ June 2008), it has, in fact, become a permanent exclusion from ministry, albeit by a series of individual dispositions but which, in fact, constitute a continuous administrative act, contrary to the discipline of canon 1342 §2;

whereas there is no indication by the Ordinary of the legitimate means of resolving the outstanding questions regarding the fitness of Father _______ for ministry, thus not affording him the possibility of extricating himself from the alleged incapacity for ministry and thereby again rendering the situation permanent;

whereas, on __ June 2006, pursuant to can. 1734, Father _______ requested the revocation of the Decree, a request to which the Ordinary did not respond;

whereas, on __ July 2006, Father _______ made recourse against the Decree to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pursuant to cann. 57 & 1737;

whereas, by letter dated __December 2006 (Prot. N. ____), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith transferred the recourse of Father _______ to the Congregation for the Clergy by reason of its competence in the matter;

whereas, the Congregation for the Clergy in its evaluation of the situation has noted the jurisprudence of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Prot. N. 37937/05CA) which indicates that can. 223 §2 does not grant an Ordinary the authority to remove a priest permanently from public ministry:

Idem Exc.mus Ordinarius dein in recursu ad H.S.T. invocavit can. 223 ad probandum legitimitatem suae decisionis relate ad Rev.dum N.: “canon 223 authorizes an ecclesiastical Superior to restrict the use of certain rights in order to protect the common good” (S. 34). Ad rem haec sedulo notanda sunt: a) can. 223 concludit titulum “De omnium christifidelium obligationibus et iuribus”; b) canones huius tituli (can. 208-223) proveniunt ex schemate Legis Ecclesiae Fundamentalis; c) agitur in illo canone de moderamine illarum obligationum et iurium fundamentalium ad bonum commune tuendum; d) can. 223 tantum principium omnino generale proponit, cuius magis concreta determinatio proprie fit per actus potestatis legislativae, in primis et praeprimis in ceteris normis ipsius CIC; e) quibus Episcopi non possunt derogare, secus actum esset de principio legalitatis et ianua pateret arbitrarietati (cf. V. De Paolis, “Incardinazioni anomale”, in L. Navarro, L’Istituto dell’incardinazione, Milano 2006, 351-377, vide 367-377). Adde quod potestas moderandi exercitium illarum obligationum et iurium haudquaquam aequari potest cum potestate idem exercitium tollendi (cf. F. Daneels, “L’investigazione previa nei casi di abuso sessuale di minori”, in J.J. Conn – L. Sabbarese, Iustitia in caritate, Città del Vaticano 2005, 409-506, vide 503).

Quod si, nihilominus, ex quadam analogia illud principium omnino generale obligationibus et iuribus clericorum applicetur, utcumque praescindi nequit a legibus magis concretis ad rem pertinentibus, quae sua vice utpote normae generales applicandae sunt ratione habita circumstantiarum singularium uniuscuiusque casus concreti. Quibus dictis, iam patet haudquaquam sufficere in re invocationem can. 223 vel remissionem ad art. 9 normarum specialium Statuum Foederatorum Americae Septentrionalis, immo non satis efferri potest periculum arbitrarietis quod ingenua invocatio principiorum ibi propositorum secumfert. Supremo Tribunale Della Segnatura Apostolico (Exc.mus Episcopus – Congregatio pro Clericis) – 28 aprile 2007 – Prot. n. 37937/05 – Grocholewski, Ponente, Ius Ecclesiae, Vol. 19, 2007, 611-626, vide 619-620.

whereas the Congregation for the Clergy furthermore sought a clarification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, regarding the application of canon 223 §2 “…da alcuni Ordinari degli Stati Uniti, per ‘sospendere, a tempo indeterminatio, o per rimuovere dall’esercizio del sacro ministero’ i sacerdoti anche nei casi in cui non hanno commesso un vero e proprio delitto o non vi è stato un processo canonico”;

whereas in a response dated 27 June 2008 (N. 11127/2008), the Pontifical Council, having studied the matter with certain experts, stated:

_“…Anzitutto, è necessario ricordare che la prima e fondamentale regola di interpretazione porta a considerare il significato proprio delle parole nel testo e nel contesto (cfr. can. 17). Applicando tale regola all’espressione ‘exercitium iurium…moderari’, del can. 223, §2 se ne può dedurre il significato ampio di ‘governare’ nel senso di emanare norme, legiferare…Il Legislatore, quindi, riconosce la capacità dell’Autorità ecclesiastica di disciplinare, mediante leggi, l’esercizio dei dirriti. Non sembra, però, che la mens sia stata quella di stabilire con il can. 223 §2 una norma per giustificare un intervento amministrativo del superiore…Quanto ai provvedimenti limitativi dell’esercizio del sacerdozio, come la rimozione dagli uffici pastorali o la revoca di alcune facoltà ministeriali, quali sanzioni amministrative si ritiene che ciò è possibile, però in base ad altre norme, come ad es. il can. 1722, CIC…L’invocazione del can. 223 §2 allo scopo di legittimare gli interventi amministrativi di contenuto di fatto penale risulta, invece, del tutto fuorviante, non solo sotto il profilo tecnico, come un’analisi attenta concluderebbe senza difficoltà, ma anche e soprattuto sotto il profilo della giustizia sostanziale; significherebbe annullare practicamente la stessa legislazione codiciale e collocare il potere amministrativo (penale) al di sopra de quello normativo generale…L’ordinamento canonico ha stabilito che la dimissione dello stato clericale esige un processo giudiziale e può essere fatto solo per delitti stabiliti dalla legge universale. Un’invadenza dell’atto amministrativo in questo campo non sembra rispondere all lettera e allo spirito dell’ordinamento canonico…”

whereas, the Decree (as well as the subsequent similar decrees) cites can. 223 §2 as giving the Ordinary the authority to effectively and continuously remove Father _______ from the exercise of priestly ministry,

whereas the canonical process involved in the application of this provision was not that envisioned for such a situation by the Code of Canon Law, therefore, in light of the all the foregoing:

the Congregation hereby decrees that the administrative recourse presented by the Reverend _______ against the Decree of his Ordinary dated ___ May 2006 (and subsequent prorogations of same) is upheld because it violates the law both in procedendo and in decernendo.

Article 135 of the General Regulations of the Roman Curia states that an appeal to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura can be made within thirty (30) days, from the date of the legitimate reception of this Decree.

Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Clergy ___ July 2008.

+Mauro Piacenza

Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana

Secretary

Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid

Department Head




Congregation for the Clergy, The common good and the imposition of temporary limits on the exercise of priestly ministry, July 2008, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2008, 8-11.