BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE CHILD protection procedures of the Catholic Church in England and Wales are against canon law, it emerged this week.
The revelations came just days after Vatican Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, sensationally rejected an application from the United States bishops for a formal "recognitio" to make their child protection guidelines canonically binding.
Cardinal Re, acknowledging that sexual abuse of children was "abhorrent", called the US bishops' proposals "vague", "imprecise", a source of "confusion and ambiguity" and said
1they failed to conform to the Code of Canon Law (CLC) and other Church and human rights norms.
But as the US bishops accepted his plans for a mixed commission to work on a revised charter, it emerged that the Nolan Report, published last year by the English and Welsh bishops, was also in breach of canon law.
Most contentiously, Recommendation 66 of Nolan requires priests to take "administrative leave" when an allegation has been made although there is no provision at all for "administrative leave" in the CLC.
Instead, a bishop who wants to remove a priest from a parish must initiate a judicial process in accordance with the code if his actions are to be lawful in the eyes of the Church.
Canon lawyer Fr Paul Jennings, the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, said that because of the way Nolan was being put into practice it was only a matter of time before a priest took a case against the English and Welsh bishops to the Vatican.
"Under Nolan, priests are being ordered out of their parishes within hours," he said. "A bishop can't do that."
He said: "A priest could insist on his right to stay in his parish until the course has been carried out properly and could have recourse to Rome itself. I guess eventually one day one priest is going to do that" The difficulties of the Nolan Report have not been addressed by the Vatican because, unlike the proposed norms of the US bishops. it was not prepared with the aim of becoming a "particular law". The procedures are seen by the English bishops as simply "pastoral".
However, they have been criticised as "draconian" for their apparent reversal of the burden of proof, for their use of such presumptive language as "disclosure" for "allegation" and "victim" for "complainant", and for such measures as glassfronted confessionals even though there is scant evidence to demonstrate that any child has ever been abused in an English confessional.
Fr Francis Marsden, a priest of the Liverpool archdiocese, said "It is very difficult because you want to protect children.
"We don't want anyone who is guilty to get away with it and, God forbid, continue offending, but if you go to the other extreme and panic then every priest subject to a malicious allegation will have his reputation ruined. I'm afraid the Nolan procedures are too much in that direction."
The Vatican has the same concerns about the US "Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People", dubbed the 'Dallas Policy" after a meeting of the US bishops there last April to discuss child protection.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the US bishops' conference, told reporters that Rome was alarmed by any de facto treatment of accused priests as guilty until all the due legal processes had been properly fulfilled. He said Rome was also worried about the widening definitions of "sexual abuse".
But in contrast to their bishops, many priests in the US welcomed the Vatican's rejection of the child protection proposals.
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