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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Excerpts: Vatican document
In a document addressed to "all patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and other diocesan ordinaries", the Vatican gives instructions on the "manner of proceeding in cases of solicitations":

The text, it adds, is to be "diligently stored in the secret archives... as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries".

Some excerpts follow:

The crime of solicitation takes place when a priest tempts a penitent, whoever that person is, either in the act of sacramental confession, whether before or immediately afterwards, whether on the occasion or the pretext of confession, whether even outside the times for confession in the confessional or [in a place] other than that [usually] designated for the hearing of confessions or [in a place] chosen for the simulated purpose of hearing a confession...

[The object of this temptation] is to solicit or provoke [the penitent] toward impure and obscene matters, whether by words or signs or nods of the head, whether by touch or by writing whether then or after [the note has been read] or whether he has had with [that penitent] prohibited and improper speech or activity with reckless daring...

The Ordinary of the place in these cases is the judge even for regulars [religious], even though exempt. It is indeed strictly prohibited for their superiors to interpose themselves in cases pertaining to the Holy Office.

However, having safeguarded the right of the Ordinary, there is nothing to prevent superiors themselves, if by chance they have discovered [one of their] subjects delinquent in the administration of the sacrament of Penance, from being able and having the obligation of being diligently watchful over those same persons, and, even having administered salutary penances, to admonish and correct, and, if the case demands it, to remove him from some ministry.

They will also be able to transfer him to another [assignment], unless the Ordinary of the place has forbidden it because he has already accepted the denunciation and has begun the inquisition.

Although, as a rule, a single judge, by reason of its secrecy, is prescribed for cases of this type, it is not forbidden, however, for the Ordinary in the more difficult cases to approve one or two assessors and counsellors, selected from the synodal judges; or even to three judges, likewise chosen from the synodal judges, to hand over the case to the judges to be handled with the mandate of proceeding collegially...

Minor helpers are to be used for nothing unless it is absolutely necessary; and these are to be chosen, in so far as possible, from the priestly order; always, however, they are to be proved faithfulness and mature without exception.

Because, however, what is treated in these cases has to have a greater degree of care and observance so that those same matters be pursued in a most secretive way, and, after they have been defined and given over to execution, they are to be restrained by a perpetual silence, each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way or admitted to knowledge of the matters because of their office, is to observe the strictest secret... under the penalty of excommunication.

The oath of keeping the secret must be given in these cases also by the accusers of those denouncing [the priest] and the witnesses.

First knowledge of the crime

Since the crime of solicitation takes place in rather rare decisions, lest it remain occult and unpunished and always with inestimable detriments to souls, it was necessary for the one person, as for many persons, conscious of that [act of solicitation], namely, the solicited penitent, to be compelled to reveal it through a denunciation imposed by positive law. Therefore:

The penitent must denounce the accused priest of the delict of solicitation in confession within a month to the Ordinary of the place or to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office; and the confessor must, burdened seriously in conscience, to warn the penitent of this duty.

The faithful, however, who knowingly have disregarded the obligation to denounce the person by whom he was solicited, within a month, falls into an excommunication, not to be absolved unless after he has satisfies the obligation or has promised seriously that he would do so.

The duty of denunciation is a personal one and is to be fulfilled regularly by the person himself who has been solicited.

Anonymous denunciations generally must be rejected. However, they can have supportive force or give the occasion for further investigations, if the particular circumstances of the matters involved render an accusation probable.

The obligation of denunciation on the part of the solicited penitent does not cease because of a spontaneous confession by the soliciting confessor done by chance, nor because of his being transferred, promoted, condemned, or presumably reformed and other reasons of the same kind. It ceases, however, at his death.

Before [the person making the denunciation] is dismissed, there should be presented to him, as above, an oath of observing the secret, threatening him, if there is a need, with an excommunication reserved to the Ordinary or to the Holy See.

The process

If two witnesses cannot be found where each individual knows both the denounced and the denouncer, or if they cannot be interrogated at the same time without the danger of scandal or without detriment to the good name concerning him, then arrangements to be made, so that two persons, by means of a divided [testimony], namely, interrogate two witnesses only about the denounced and another two only about the individual denouncers.

In this case, however, it will be necessary to inquire elsewhere as to whether hatred, enmity or any other human disaffection against the denunciated [priest] was the case.

If it is evident that the denunciation totally lacks a foundation, [the priest] should order this to be declared in the Acts, and the documents of the accusation should be destroyed.

If the indications of the crime are vague and indeterminate or uncertain, he should order that the Acts be put into the archives, to be taken up again if something else happens in the future.

If, however, there are indications of a crime serious enough but not yet sufficient to institute an accusatorial process, he should order that the accused be admonished according to the different [types of] cases the first or second [time?], paternally, seriously or most seriously, adding, if necessary, an explicit threat of the trial process, should some other new accusation is laid upon [the accused] meanwhile, a check should be kept on the morale of the accused.

Penalties

Those who are in danger of falling back [into their former ways], and therefore of becoming greater recidivists should be submitted to particular vigilance.

As often as, in the prudent judgment of the Ordinary, it seems necessary for the amendment of the delinquent, for the removal of the near occasion [of soliciting in the future], or for the prevention of scandal or reparation for it, there should be added a prescription for a prohibition of remaining in a certain place.

Official communications

Whenever an Ordinary immediately accepts a denunciation of the crime of solicitation, he should not omit telling this to the Holy Office. And if by chance he treats of a priest whether secular or religious having residence in another territory, he should transmit at the same time, an authentic copy of the denunciation itself.

Any Ordinary who has proceeded correctly against some priest who is soliciting should not omit to informing the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office, and, if it is a matter in which a religious is involved, also the General Superior concerning the outcome of the case.

If any priests condemned of the crime of solicitation, or even only admonished, should transfer his residence to another territory, [one] Ordinary should immediately warn the [other] Ordinary of the things that preceded that person and of his juridical status.

If any priests suspended in a case of solicitation from hearing sacramental confessions but not from sacred preaching happens to go to another territory to preach, the Ordinary of this territory should be reminded by the prelate or the accused, whether secular or religious, that he cannot be utilised for hearing sacramental confessions.

All these official communications shall always be made under the secret of the Holy Office; and, since they concern the common good of the church to the greatest degree, the precept of doing these things obliges under serious sin [sub gravi].

From the audience of the Holy Father, 16 March 1962

Our Most Holy Father John XXIII, in an audience granted to the most eminent Cardinal Secretary of the Holy Office on 16 March 1962, deigned to approve and confirm this instruction, ordering upon those to whom it pertains to keep and observe it in the minutest detail.

At Rome, from the Office of the Sacred Congregation, 16 March 1962.

Place of the seal

A Cardinal Ottaviani

Appendix

The formula for taking an oath to exercise one's office faithfully and to observe the secret of the Holy Office

I promise sacredly, vow and swear, to observe inviolably the secret in all matters and details which will take place in exercising the aforesaid duty.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"Fresh questions will now be asked about how deep the culture of secrecy runs"



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