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Getting it straight on Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela

December 19, 2009 ·  , irishcatholic.ie

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In 2001 the Vatican issued a document called Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. This sets out how offences against the sacraments and offences against minors should be dealt with by the Church. Critics of the Church insist that this document instructed bishops to cover up allegations of clerical sex abuse and not tell the civil authorities. This is total nonsense, as actual practice since the document was issued demonstrates.

Take the diocese of Ferns, for example. Since the 2001 document was issued, Ferns diocese has referred no fewer than 10 cases to the Vatican involving priests against whom allegations of child sex abuse have been made.

Six of those priests have been dismissed from the clerical state. Two have accepted voluntary laicisation, while two cases are still pending. But crucially, in every one of those cases, both the Gardai and the health authorities knew about the allegations. Fern made sure of that. In one instance, a priest has served time in prison, and in another, a priest has received a suspended sentence.

If those attacking the Church are correct, if they are right in saying that Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela forbids bishops from informing the civil authorities when allegations of child abuse are made against clergy, then why did Ferns ensure that the civil authorities knew of the allegations made the priests whose files were also sent to the Vatican?

Was Ferns disobeying the Vatican instruction? No it was not, because that instruction does not tell bishops not to inform the civil authorities of abuse allegations.

All it tells them is that internal disciplinary actions against clergy must remain confidential, although when a priest is laicised, that fact can be made public, as has happened in a number of cases.

It is now common practice for dioceses all over the world to inform the Vatican when an abuse allegation is made against a priest, and this is precisely because the Vatican wants to make sure they are properly dealt with. Far from trying to obstruct justice, the Vatican is trying to ensure justice is done.

Of  course, we can’t know for sure whether every single diocese in every part of the world is obeying the 2001 instruction, but those that are, are ensuring that clerical sex abusers are dealt with properly both by the Church, and by the civil authorities.

Those who still doubt this need to explain why Ferns referred the 10 cases mentioned above to the Vatican, while at the same time making sure that the civil authorities were aware of them.

Ferns proves that Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela is not being used to cover up allegations of sex abuse. The contrary is the case. The critics need to apologise. That includes Garret FitzGerald writing in today’s Irish Times.

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