Moral duty

A Vatican legal expert has rejected that there are church service rules to cover up abuse cases. On the contrary, it is a "clear principle" that church agencies must file criminal charges when required by state law, said Charles J. Scicluna, canon lawyer for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for serious canonical offenses.

In addition, he said, there is a general "moral obligation" to cooperate with state authorities. Scicluna objected to claims that secret church documents exist on how to deal with sexual abuse. Only the instructions in "Crimen sollicitationis" from 1922 and 1962 on the procedure for internal church investigations were originally confidential. "They are no longer because they are on the Internet," the legal expert said. The impression of secrecy was created by an unauthorized "poor translation of this text into English". In fact, he says, the secrecy of investigations should serve to protect the people involved. The "moral duty" to cooperate with state investigators stems from the general principles of canon law, he said. This is based on fundamental ethical duties as formulated in moral theology, says the lawyer. Catholic superiors are obliged by canon law to report credible allegations to Rome, he said. In contrast, not all state jurisdictions have a legally binding duty to report to social workers or church employees who become aware of abuse cases in any way. On the "papal secret" (secretum pontificium) clause in the canon law provisions on abuse, Scicluna said this duty of secrecy must be distinguished from the secrecy of confession. The secrecy of confession is inviolable under all circumstances, even if a priest is questioned as a witness in a state court. The "secretum pontificium" is about the most extensive protection of personality for plaintiffs and defendants in church proceedings. This, she said, is independent of state action, follows its own rules – for example, regarding the statute of limitations – and can only impose punishments in the ecclesiastical sphere. State courts, on the other hand, were interested in those matters that concerned their jurisdiction.

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Christina Cherry
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