FOR THE past decades, the Roman Catholic Church has been shaken by scandals involving its priests in heterosexual and homosexual affairs and sexual abuses against children, teenagers, and even nuns.

In its struggle to respond firmly to the concerns, the Vatican has silently issued a new set of rules in dealing with priests and other members of the clergy accused of or involved in illicit affairs or any form of sexual abuse. The new rules make it clear that priests should stand trial in secret ecclesiastical courts that will be overseen by Rome.

Last year, Pope John Paul II and the Vatican issued two documents on the issue, but they were not made public.

The Pope authorized the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to issue the guidelines on how to deal with the problems through a papal directive, Motu Propio.

“We hope that not only will these serious crimes be avoided but, above all, that the holiness of the clergy and the faithful be protected by the necessary sanctions and by the pastoral care offered by the bishops and others responsible,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith said in his letter, which was sent to all bishops and heads of religious orders around the world.

Based on the guidelines, Vatican officials may allow a local church tribunal to hold a church trial or the case could be immediately transferred to a church court in Rome to determine whether a priest should be dismissed.

The Pope has publicly acknowledged some of the cases and apologized to the victims, admitting that these are a disgrace to the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger said that if a priest, whether a local bishop or head of a religious order, is suspected of committing any form of sexual abuse, the local church authorities must open an investigation on the case and inform the Vatican. But the Cardinal emphasized, as stated in the new rules, that the accused priest must have the initiative to inform church officials and must submit himself to proceedings.

Braving the rainy days

The rules governing the proceedings do not indicate civil prosecutions but state the future of the accused in the Church, whether he will be relieved from priesthood or be stripped of the right to perform the sacraments.

According to a high-ranking Vatican official, the new rules are intended to protect the rights of the accused.

On the other hand, critics said that the rules could instead add to the impression that the Church is trying to hide the abuses rather than address the pastoral needs of the victims because of the secrecy that shrouds the investigation.

Some even said that these rules seemed to be more favorable to the perpetrators rather than to the victims, who have long protested that the Church’s steps to address the problem are inadequate. Anna Rachelle S. Ariola


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