What is Catholic Church's law on sexual abuse of minors?

Sexual abuse of minors at forefront of upcoming summit


With the Vatican hosting a Protection of Minors in the Church summit from Thursday to Sunday, the issue of the sexual abuse of children will be at the forefront of the discussion.

So, what are the church’s laws when it comes to the sexual abuse of minors?

First of all, any accusation must first go through a local church or diocese.

The identities of the people involved are kept confidential and if there is deemed to be a “semblance of truth” to the accusation, then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is informed and makes a decision on whether to hear the case.

From there, here are some points of the applicable church law regarding clerical sexual abuse of minors, listed on www.pbc2019.org, if the CDF decides to hear a case. Any removal of a clergy member's standing depends on the evidence presented that laws were violated. 

For the full background of laws, click or tap here

Some key points include:

  • The crime must have been committed by a deacon, priest or bishop after the date of ordainment. 
  • The prescription for clerical sexual abuse of monies expires when the person who experienced the abuse reaches the age of 38, or 20 years after the person’s 18th birthday. In individual cases, the CDF can deviate from this particular rule.
  • The statute of limitations is 10 years if the crime was committed between 2001 and 2010. It is five years if the crime was committed before 2001. 
  • Two types of ecclesiastical processes are possible, a judicial penal process, which is a trial, and an administrative penal process which concludes with an extrajudicial decree. The second is an abbreviated process and may take place through correspondence with the accused. 
  • The most “grave cases” are when the Pope makes a decision to dismiss the accused from clerical state, which happens when the crime committed is “manifestly evident.”

Bishops can also be removed from office if it is deemed they are negligent regarding the sexual abuse of minors.

The process is similar to accusations against minors, with it having to go through the local churches and dioceses before having the CFD consider the case. 

About the Author: