Fr. Tom Doyle on 'Crimen Sollicitationis'

by John L. Allen Jr.

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NOTE: Last week, I discussed a recent BBC documentary, "Sex Crimes in the Vatican," which among other things made reference to a 1962 Vatican document called "Crimen Sollicitationis." I made three points about the document: 1) it was extremely obscure, 2) it went out of force in 1983, and 3) it had nothing to do with the question of cooperation with police or civil authorities. Fr. Tom Doyle, a widely noted expert on the sexual abuse crisis, offered the following response.


Although you state that the document was no longer in force after the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, this is not the case. Contrary to what would have happened under ordinary circumstances, the 1962 Instruction remained in force until May, 2001, when Pope John Paul II promulgated Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. The new procedures themselves, which were the subject of the papal letter cited above, were issued on may 18, 2001 under Cardinal Ratzinger's signature. This document itself states that the 1962 instruction, Crimen Sollicitationis, was in force until 2001 (The English translation below was taken from the USCCB translation:

At approximately the same time the Congregation for the Faith, through an
ad hoc Commission established, devoted itself to a diligent study of the
canons on delicts, both of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons
of the Eastern Churches, in order to determine "more grave delicts both
against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments" and in order to
make special procedural norms "to declare or impose canonical sanctions,"
because the Instruction
Crimen sollicitationis, issued by the Supreme Sacred
Congregation of the Holy Office on March 16,1962,(3) in force until now,
was to be reviewed when the new canonical Codes were promulgated.

Although I was a consultant to the producers of the documentary I am afraid that some of the distinctions I have made about the 1962 document have been lost. I do not believe now nor have I ever believed it to be proof of an explicit conspiracy, in the conventional sense, engineered by top Vatican officials, to cover up cases of clergy sexual abuse. I do not believe that the Vatican or any group of bishops needed a conspiracy.

The secrecy an cover-up was very much a part of the Catholic institutional culture and was, in fact, a policy. I have studied the files of hundreds of clergy sex abuse cases throughout the U.S., in Canada, Ireland and the British Isles....files produced by dioceses and religious orders.....and I can assure you that the common thread was an intentional cover-up enshrouded in secrecy. That is the way it was. But to admit that it was part of the culture and "the way we did it then" is no consolation to the hundreds of thousands of victims and their families who deserved a compassionate, caring response from their Church and received instead a stone wall.

The Church leadership has kept its distance from the victims throughout history. In this era especially they would do well to meet them face to face and spend hours listening and learning, instead of remaining aloof and allowing their public relations firms to craft their responses.

The excuses of those who claim they didn't understand remain hollow. What normal person doesn't comprehend that sexually assaulting a child or a young minor is exceedingly harmful. More important, what kind of Catholic, cleric or lay, cannot understand the unspeakable damage hat sexual abuse of a devout Catholic child by a priest or bishop will not have profoundly disastrous effects. If clerics, from deacons to the pope, do not grasp this, then there is something drastically wrong with the culture that formed them and sustains them.

The clergy sexual abuse nightmare is far from simple and certainly far from ended. The bishops repeat the same empty mantra: they have norms in place from Dallas, 2002 and these have taken care of the problem. Perhaps from their limited bureaucratic viewpoint that particular blank on the page has been filled, but it has had a minimal effect on their awareness of the depth of harm done or pain caused not simply by the actual sexual abuse but by the often cold, distant and seemingly uncaring attitude of the hierarchy. True, many bishops and many more priests have responded heroically and compassionately, but the majority are frozen in a block of clericalist denial.

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