Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions
RECENTLY I HAVE read press reports about yet another priest being convicted of being a paedophile. What is the Catholic Church doing about this?
One gets the impression that some of those found guilty are treated as if they have some kind of illness and that all that is necessary is a month or two in some clinic. Is this really the right attitude to paedophilia among priests?
NE HATES TO disappoint anti-clerical observers, but statistics from the US reveal that the majority of paedophiles are married men (76 per cent). One should also point out that up to the Eighties the mass media in these Isles treated such depravity with indulgent humour (the vicar and the scout troup, etc.) and indeed literary
giants could always be found to offer a respectable gloss for the pursuit of young boys generally, like Mann's Death in Venice or the novels of Edmund White and lain McEwan.
The same media urged the Church to loosen up, let go and hook up with sexual liberation in the Seventies and Eighties, to release its apparently repressed clergy from all those horrible medieval constraints like celibacy. In a culture of sexual experimentation it has not occurred to some media outlets that they bear sonic responsibility for promoting the kind of
'The Code of Canon Law does not pussyfoot around such cases'
climate which encourages paedophiles (pre-puberty) and ephebophiles (post-puberty), particularly when they publish pictures of 16-year-old nymphets in their pages. It is not surprising that in the same period such people managed to get into seminaries through deceit. The problem is: what should the Church do when a wolf has got into the flock disguised as a shepherd?
In April of this year there was a secret meeting of English-speaking bishops about this precise matter. They had been invited to Rome by the Vatican to discuss ways of dealing with clergy guilty of the abuse of minors (canon 1395 * 2). Without wishing to impugn individuals, the fact that some bishops were formed in an era that disparaged law and that sonic therefore felt that the instruments of law were inappropriate for Christians may have created an enormous liability for the local Church.
Fortunately the Vatican has no such disrespect for law. Today, bishops have a statutory obligation to report an accused cleric to the police. Once investigated the cleric will now stand trial in a criminal court. Yet bishops are also urged to deal with such cases internally through the terms of canon 1395 *2. The Code does not pussyfoot around such cases; it lays bare the crime and the penalty (dismissal from the clerical state).
I am happy to report that in April the bishops agreed with the discussion document tabled by the Vatican which stated that there are four areas
that need to be tackled in such cases. These are: a) the victims need to be addressed; h) the wider ccclesial community needs to be addressed; c) the perpetrators have to be dealt with; and d) the wider social community needs to be kept in mind.
While in Rome, around the same time, 1 happened to bump into one of the canon lawyers advising the bishops at the meeting and he came up with what is a much better approach than going through the full palaver of au internal judicial trial. He had suggested that a bishop could declare a man accused of this offence as "irregular" to exercise holy orders (canon 1044) by the very fact of accusation. How so?
APERSON IN holy orders acts in persona Christi Capitis (in the person of Christ as Head of the Body) and we cannot give the impression that Christ was a paedophile, therefore, we have them out if they are accused and convicted. Reduction to the lay state, to use official terminology, is the best way forward in these cases and avoids all the hassle of a judicial trial. In any case, trials can be supplied in abundance by the civil regime — as indeed they have been. It also absolves the diocese of financial liability if the miscreant reoffends.
Consequently, in every case such people must he dismissed and laicised. I am sure most bishops would agree with the reader that paedophilia is not just an illness but also a serious crime. Church law does not accept the distinction some therapists make between paedophilia and ephebophilia. For clerics it is a serious offence to sexually abuse anyone under 16 years — consenting or otherwise.
We need to send a clear signal to the wider society which considers it so and pronounce that in every instance a cleric guilty of such crimes is to be dismissed notwith
standing the astonishing remarks of the British Commentary on the Code.
What of false accusation, false memory syndrome, historical cases or litigants who fabricate evidence for the purpose of making a fast buck?
Pope Innocent Ill, who introduced the inquisitorial process to canon law, made a basic distinction between accusations made from malice and those made from the report of the many (a multorum relatione). So, too, do the police (caveat detractor). Some lawyers feel that a statute of limitations should be enacted for historical cases, but in canon law the statute of actionability for such offences is five years from the date of the offence (can. 1362). Victims, then, must report such offences within five years otherwise the relevant Superior or Bishop is left powerless to act in canon law.
What of trawling operations by diocesan investigation teams? One learned Dominican who is an expert in this area suggests that eventually the civil judiciary will rule on their legality.
Paedophiles are very deceptive and we have to accept that they may on occasion infiltrate the caring professions, even the priesthood. Teachers, social workers, pop stars, doctors and even law enforcement officials have all had to flush them out of their systems.
Indeed, a QC writing in The Times made it clear that in ten years of trying such cases he never once had to try a clergyman; so the impression created by some Irish media outlets that this is a problem associated with celibate clergy is false.
Some kinds of immoral act have been criminalised — by civil and canon law — and this means that no cleric, no matter how high-ranking he is, can put himself above the law.