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superior or being removed from a diocese and transferred to another for an arbitrary amount of
In 1983, the 1917 Code was revised and re-codified, and is now known as the “1983 Code
of Canon Law.”118 Canons 697 and 1341 afford either an administrative procedure for
investigating allegations of abuse or an administrative or judicial means to determine guilt.119 Both
methods allow for the imposition of a discretionary penalty.120 If a priest is accused of sexual
abuse, the bishop of the diocese to which the priest belongs has the responsibility to initiate, pursue,
and finalize the process of dealing with an allegation against said priest.121 However, the penalty
imposed does not necessarily, nor does it usually, end with excommunication.122 Available
statistical data from the 1970s and 1980s indicate that bishops chose to follow the pastoral
approach closely by referring offending priests to treatment centers or to be psychologically
evaluated.123 Further evidence suggests that many priests were allowed to return to ministry
following a stint at a treatment center.124
A study conducted by the Australian Royal Commission found that the “pastoral approach”
had a negative effect in two ways on the Church’s response to clergy members committing acts of
sexual abuse against children.125 First, the pastoral approach encouraged the belief that child sexual
abuse was a “moral failure rather than a crime that should be reported to the police.”126 Second, it
inhibited canonical action for dismissal because the pastoral approach was a precondition to
instituting it. 127 That is, the approach requires superiors to “rebuke, warn, or try to cure” those
against whom allegations were made before subjecting them to a canonical trial. 128
Another common response by the Church as a disciplinary method has been to relocate
offending clerics to another parish or even another country. 129 Transferring an offender to a
position with limited contact with children has also been employed. 130 There does not seem to be
any requirement that a transferring priest alert his new diocese that he has been accused of sexual
abuse. 131 This practice has allowed many to continue abusing children and has done nothing
117 Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Causes involving the Crime of Solicitation, ART 63-64 CRIMEN
SOLLICITATIONIS 2 (1962), http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_crimen-sollicitationis-1962_en.html.
118 See 1983 CODE c.1341; see also 1983 CODE c.697.
119 See 1983 CODE c.1341; see also 1983 CODE c.697.
120 See 1983 CODE c.1341; see also 1983 CODE c.697; see also Kieran Tapsell, ‘Catastrophic institutional failure’ can
be fixed, NAT’L CATH. REP. 4-5 (Jan. 9, 2018), https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/catastrophic-institutional-failure-cataloged-australian-abuse-commission-can-be.
121 John J. Coughlin, The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Spirit of Canon Law, 44 B.C.L. REV. 977, 981 (2003).
123 Child Sexual abuse within the Catholic and Anglican Churches: A rapid evidence assessment, Independent Inquiry
into Child Sexual Abuse, IICSA RES. TEAM 45 (Nov. 2017), https://www.iicsa.org.uk/key-
documents/3361/view/iicsa-rea-child-sexual-abuse-anglican-catholic-churches-nov-2017-.pdf (last corrected Nov. 8,
125 Tapsell, supra note 120.
129 TAPSELL, supra note 84, at 16.
130 Id. at 4.
131 Tapsell, supra note 120.