substantial to punish the offender; instead, it has inadvertently allowed abusers to find new
If a bishop is accused of child sexual abuse, then the Pope determines how to proceed. 133
When the Pope learns that a bishop has sexually abused a child, he appoints auditors to investigate
the matter and gather facts. 134 Upon reviewing the matter, the Pope decides whether to take
administrative or judicial action. 135 If the Pope decides to take the administrative route, he may
instruct the College of Bishops to order an offending bishop to a secluded monastery to live out a
life of prayer and penance. 136 This method allows the offender to serve as a bishop and priest, and
contains any modicum of a scandal within the Church walls.
If the Pope decides to take judicial action, he must follow the procedures set forth in Canon
1717.137 Canon 1717 requires that any penal trial must begin with a preliminary inquiry about the
facts, circumstances, and the responsibility of the accused. 138 If, upon completing his review, the
Pope decides there is enough evidence to substantiate an allegation of sexual abuse, then the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith139 steps in—an apostolic tribunal would ensue, and it
would be handled under the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 140 It is
possible, though not mandatory, for the Pope to invoke Canon 1722, which places the accused on
administrative leave. 141 Under this Canon, there are several options the Pope can select from to
impose as punishment. 142 The accused can be excluded from the sacred ministry or from his office
and ecclesiastical functions. 143 The accused can also be forced to live in an arbitrarily-selected
territory or he can be forbidden to live in a particular territory. 144 Finally, the accused can be
prohibited from public participation in the Holy Eucharist. 145
There are three possible outcomes in a canonical trial: guilty, not guilty, or not proven. 146
The last verdict, “not proven,” indicates that, even though no condemnation or penalty was
imposed, the allegations were concerning enough that Church officials should be wary when
assigning the accused to unsupervised ministries with children. 147
133 Cindy Wooden, Canon lawyers explain how Vatican abuse trials function, CRUX TAKING THE CATH. PULSE (Aug.
11, 2018), https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2018/08/11/canon-lawyers-explain-how-vatican-abuse-trials-function/.
134 Patrick J. Wall, Not-So-Great Expectations for the Canonical Trial of Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron OFM
Cap (Feb. 7, 2017), https://patrickjwall.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/not-so-great-expectations-for-the-canonical-trial-
137 Rev. Francis Morrisey, IX, The Preliminary Investigation for Penal Cases: Some Thoughts on Process, ST. PAUL
139 Wooden, supra note 133.
141 Morrisey, supra note 137.
145 Wooden, supra note 133.