The Pope has proposed a strategy for speeding up trials, involving cases being heard in first and second instance courts, by different judges
The fight against paedophilia and abuse against minors by members of the clergy remains a priority under Francis’ pontificate as it was under Benedict XVI’s. One of the ideas currently being examined for the improvement of the existing system, is to establish national and regional ecclesiastical courts, specialising in these types of cases. This would speed the trial process up.
The idea was discussed during the second part of the Concistory which took place on Monday morning. All cardinals present in Rome attended. After John Paul Ii and John XXIII’s canonization dates were officially announced, Francis consulted the cardinals on the anti-paedophilia regulations currently in place.
Last 6 April, after receiving the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Müller, Francis “strongly urged the Congregation to continue the work Benedict XVI had begun against sex abuse and act with determination to combat it.” Francis asked the Congregation above all to “promote measures for the protection of minors, help past victims of sex abuse, take all necessary measures to bring guilty parties to justice and ensure Bishops’ Conferences introduced and implemented all necessary regulations relating to sex abuse. This is so important for the Church’s testimony and credibility.” This is an unmistakable sign that the clampdown on paedophilia in the Church continues.
The current regulations which were introduced by Ratzinger and have been in force for the past ten years got tougher in 2010. These regulations state that child sex abuse cases cannot be heard in local courts but can only be dealt with by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. In the wake of the wave of sex abuse cases in the U.S., Ireland and Germany, a form of “emergency legislation” came into force, making it possible for priests found guilty of sex abuse crimes to be removed from the clergy via administrative judicial means. Although cases had to be evaluated by the Congregation’s special team, which until a year ago was headed by Maltese monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith passed the cases on local first instance and second instance ecclesiastical courts. In such cases, these local courts acted on a Holy See mandate. But these courts were set up on a case-by-case basis, they were not fixed, specialist structures.
One of the ideas that is currently being examined, is the potential establishment of regional or national courts which could be linked to individual bishops’ conferences. This would speed up legal procedures, making them more efficient and would guarantee the protection of victims as well as the legitimate defence of the rights of the individual being accused. The courts would have the authority to promptly hold first and second instance hearings into abuse cases. Thanks to Benedict XVI’s hard work, mentalities are slowly changing. Bishops’ Conferences are adopting specific regulations, deriving from the Holy See’s more general regulations. These more specific regulations are tailored to the civil and criminal laws of individual countries. The logical result will be decentralisation and clearer rules.
Another aspect the Holy See’s jurists are looking into is the procedure for appealing against a cleric’s dismissal through the administrative track in very serious cases. Until today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself acted as a court of second instance but some are suggesting that the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura should handle sex abuse cases.