A Cascade of Renunciation to the Rights of the Church

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

Finding themselves under constant pressure in the aftermath of scandales related to sexual misconduct, ecclesiastic authorities are going from one renunciation to another. In that regard, Father Giovanni Saclese, crsp, published an article in the may 2019 issue of the review Il Timone, an article titled: “an ecclesiastic justice in thrall to civil justice”“We are under the impression, he wrote, that the ecclesiastic justice “crawls” in front of the civil justice, in two ways: First, by adopting its judgement criteria; second, by entrusting it the handling of abuse cases. […] We don’t realize that, in doing so, we risk loosing sight of the specificity of canonical law, for which the abuse on minors constitutes first an aggravating circumstance of an exterior sin contra sextum, and for a religious always constitutes a crime.”

In our April 2019 issue, Res Novæ # 8, we, too, had addressed the issue of “The abdication of the sovereignty of the Church while facing the modern State and its tribunals”: the real error of the ecclesiastic authorities in the sex scandals which fill up the columns of the newspapers is certainly not having denounced suspected clerics to civil justice, but not to have judged them themselves in Church tribunals, and if they were found guilty not to have condemned them, before then letting the justice of the State do its work as it wishes. It is a reality, ecclesiastic tribunals almost don’t handle anything today but request for marriage nullity.

On this occasion, we had mentioned that, even in these trials regarding annulments, the canonical justice, in France and in other countries, put itself in thrall to civil justice by scandalously demanding from the spouses that they first obtain a civil divorce – and consequently request it if they have not done so –, before engaging an action with the proper diocesan office.

We had emphasized the fact the Holy See not only had not claimed at all its inalienable rights to judge, to condemn them or exonerate them, cardinals of the Roman Church Georges Pell and Philippe Barbarin both who, for different reasons, found themselves involved in scandals of pedophilia. On the contrary, the Holy See had even announced waiting respectfully the verdict of the justice of the State before handling their case. In regards to Cardinal Pell, the Holy See went as far as having the Vatican press office declare: “We reiterate our at most respect for the Australian judicial system. Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process.”

We should add that in November 2018, the Conference of French Bishops, traumatized by the scandals duly orchestrated, had decided to create an independent commission on sexual abuses in the Church. A commission with the responsibility to shed light on the aggressions, exploitations or sexual misconducts on minors, whatever the characteristics of the crime, in which priests, religious men and women might have been involved since the 1950. For the Commission, headed by a high rank civil servant, Jean-Marc Sauvé, the task is essentially in finding out how the authorities have handled these cases.

This inquiry commission, without any judiciary mandate, has immediately issued an appeal for witnesses among persons who consider themselves victims of this kind of abuse, events which would have taken place over a seventy year period. The appeal to witnesses does not concern crimes judged and where the accused has been recognized guilty, but cases never brought to trial in any court. In other words, the Commission is going to judge, as supreme, of the veracity of the accusations brought to her, without being under any type of procedure, without keeping with any delay of prescription, without hearing the defense argument of the accused persons, some of which are most likely to be deceased. And of course, it is as a last resort that it will decide of the veracity of the facts presented by the complaints, since there is no possibility of appeal against this non-jurisdiction-which-judges. All this, in an overall climate of “balance” where an aggressive both public opinion and media replace and undermine the debates in the courts. Under the pretext of transparency about errors that might have been made in its midst, it is thus more than the proper right of the Church that is in this way ignored, it is also the principles of penal law and even of natural law.

To add to this immense judicial chaos, the French bishops voted on 9 november 2019, the principle of a “standard compensation” for victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics while these victims were minors. But, why should the entire dioceses of France, and in fact the whole of the catholic benefactors, would have to participate in paying indemnities in lieu and place of the one’s guilty of the crimes? And, especially, pay a compensation to victims that are not recognized as such by the courts, but only by the Sauvé Commission? 

In an article hereinafter, Father Alexis Campo will provide details on the strange protocol signed between the Archbishop of Paris and the prosecutor’s office on 5 September 2019. Other dioceses are to follow such as Grenoble, Gap and Valence, etc. The parisian protocol makes an obligation to the bishop to forward to the prosecutor denunciations regarding sexual misconducts, when they appear credible, even before a proper inquiry. De facto, the dioceses drop in the hands of the magistrate prosecutors what in canonical law is called “preliminary inquiry”, which corresponds more or less to the judiciary police inquiry and to the investigation as in French penal law.

And on top of all this, comes the stupefying decision of Pope Francis who published a rescript on 17 December 2019 to abolish the pontifical secrecy in the case of sexual violence and abuse on minors by members of the clergy. For this rescript, the Council for Legislative Texts had not even been consulted: in reality, more than the lifting of the pontifical secrecy, which in its first intent concerns the general governance of the Church, it concerns the abolition of a secrecycommonly said of ufficio, of office. Concretely, if informations are held by religious authorities, concerning the acquisition, the possession or the divulgation of pornographic images and texts involving young persons below the age of eighteen, and if it is known that these ecclesiastics have committed other crimes of this sort, the secrecy could be lifted. There won’t be an obligatory demand of communication, but a sort of collaboration with the civil authorities who will wish it. The weight of this measure carries further than its initial goal, but the message it delivers is disastrous in regards to relinquishing the rights of the Church. Doesn’t She have – is it necessary to repeat it? – her own Roman and diocesan tribunals to judge the clerics involved in these affairs?

Furthermore, in the same order of submission to a “voluntary servitude”, the Conference of the French bishops, in regards to the law of 2013 which gave rights to homosexual couples to adopt, has just sent to all the dioceses of the country a new form to be used for certificate of baptism which no longer mentions that the baptized is “son of… and daughter of…,” but instead indicates, for all baptized and what ever his parental situation, the “parents…” of the one who receives baptism, without any other precision (see our article in Res Novæ dated 23 December 2019: “The certificates of baptism will no longer mention paternity or maternity).”