Congregation for the Clergy, Hierarchical recourse against decree of diocesan bishop claiming violation of rights, 2003, Private.

A woman accused a priest of sexual abuse more than thirty years after it was alleged to have happened. The priest strongly denied the charge. The diocesan bishop issued a decree removing the priest's faculties, acknowledging that the procedure he followed derogated "from the normal diocesan custom." The priest sought unsuccessfully to have the decree rescinded. He then pursued hierarchical recourse against the bishop's decree claiming that the decree failed to express motives for the bishop's action, that no canonical process had taken place, and that his rights were violated. The Congregation for Clergy attempted to resolve this issue outside the judicial forum but was unsuccessful. It then responded by issuing its own decree overturning the bishop's decree and ordering the diocese to pay legal fees incurred by the priest. What follows is the decree of the Congregation for Clergy in response to this matter.

Congregatio Pro Clericis


Prot. N. 20010081

Whereas on 3rd September 1998, the then Ordinary of the Archdiocese of A., the Most Rev. B.C., indicated by the communication of a Decree to the Rev. D.E., a priest of the Archdiocese of A., that his pastoral office requires that he protect the unity of the people of God and the building up of the body of Christ. ... Remedial considerations arising from that responsibility lead me to derogate from the normal diocesan custom and withdraw as from this day your faculty to celebrate the Eucharist publicly, to hear confession and to preach;

Whereas on 18th September 1998, petition was lodged before the same Ordinary requesting amendment of the time period involved from 12 months to 3, or the revocation of the aforesaid Decree, and this was refused by a Decree dated 9 October 1998; and

Whereas on the 12th October 1998, the Rev. E. entered hierarchical recourse against the aforementioned decrees of his Most Rev. Ordinary indicating the grounds for the recourse are that no motives were expressed in the Decree, that no canonical process had taken place, he requested costs and damages as well as restoration of faculties; and

Whereas this Dicastery requested the Acta from the Most Rev. Ordinary and were duly received and studied by this Dicastery; and whereas this recourse has been subjected to much delay in the hope that accord could, be reached between the parties; and

Whereas despite the many failed attempts on the part of this Congregation to have the matter resolved outside of this forum it is constrained by virtue of its entrusted responsibilities, to render decision in the matter; and

Whereas the Rev. E. has had his faculties restored as of 3rd September 1999, he is still desirous that the action proceed as, he maintains his innocence of the charge leveled; and

Whereas the Dicastery finds much confusion within the Acta between civil and canonical processes and local ecclesiastical procedures unknown to canon law, which were used to arrive at "findings," (which is in practice a "finding of fact"), upon which the Most Rev. Ordinary based his actions; and

Whereas the unverified allegations of sexual abuse of Mrs. F.G., against the priest are alleged to have occurred in the 1960's, thus well outside any possible interpretation of prescription; and

Whereas these allegations form the heart of the reason for the actions of the Most Rev. Ordinary; and

Whereas there are many other procedural irregularities which are of grave concern to this Dicastery in the local process followed in this particular situation, but rather than enumerate them the Congregation focuses on the matter of prescription having precluded any valid subsequent canonical action, therefore the Decree of the Most Rev. Ordinary of 3 September 1998, lacks a basis in law or in fact and furthermore it does not meet the requirements of canon 51 which states:

Decretum scriptum feratur expressis, saltern summarie, si agatur de decisione, motivis,


Whereas, the Dicastery has already indicated that it tried unsuccessfully, on many occasions, to have Diocesan authority enter into negotiations with the recurrent; that the procedures followed in this case are a confused mixture of canon law, and civil law procedures, sui generis, but which lead to the practical deprivation of priestly ministry from Fr. E., or at least its severe limitation; and

Whereas a judicial process was sought by the priest but was not granted in violation of canon 221, § 1; and

Whereas the decree of the 3rd September 1998, against which recourse has been taken does not meet the requirements of canon 51, nor was it arrived at following an appropriate canonical process, in violation of canon 221, §3; and

Therefore this Dicastery, taking into account all of the foregoing, and aware of the discipline of canons 47 and 57


That the Decree of the Most Rev. Ordinary of the Archdiocese of A. dated 3rd September 1998 and addressed to the Rev. D.E., is null and void and without juridical effect because of serious flaws de precedendo et de decernendo in this particular case; and

as the procedure sui generis was imposed without option by the Archdiocese, and due to its peculiar nature, required the employment of civil advocacy for an adequate defense of the accused, the Archdiocese if ordered to pay costs of Fr. E. in this matter; and

the assessment of further damages are not deemed appropriate, and lastly,

as to the incidental question posed regarding suspension of the execution of a Decree during pending appeal, canon 1353 indicates its granting by the law itself.

Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Clergy

Vatican City

Dario Card. Castrillon Hoyos


Fernando Guimaraes

Head of Department

Congregation for the Clergy, Hierarchical recourse against decree of diocesan bishop claiming violation of rights, 2003, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2003, 7-9.