.- The Catholic French historian Alain Besançon offered his perspective on whether or not sexually abusive priests should be subject to civil law in an interview over the weekend. There is the risk of taking the "wrong road" in dealing with cases, he cautioned, but to him, the decision to punish offenders in civil courts is "reasonable."
Italy's Il Foglio newspaper asked Besançon whether the Church runs the risk of blurring the lines that separate crimes from sins and, in doing so transform itself into just another "moral agency." To this question, Besançon replied, "Certainly this danger exists.
"The Church is always tempted to take a wrong street," he explained,"and it is not assumed that it can avoid this today."
He referred to a book he is currently reading which takes place in the 13th century Church during the Papacy of Boniface VII, "an apparently glorious age for the Church, but," he said, "scary in reality."
"I think that the Church of today is much better off with respect to that of the medieval times," said Besançon.
Popes in those times of Pontifical monarchy abused both their temporal and spiritual powers, he noted, "they didn't make men virtuous, nor did they believe that the body of the Church was more virtuous than any other.
"The Church, in fact, is formed of men, and of men who are sinners" and "not protecting it as a corporation and remitting the punishments of civil justice, in the end, seems to be a reasonable decision," the French historian said.
Pope Benedict XVI has highlighted the importance of cooperating with local authorities in the prosecution of offending priests while maintaining the procedures of canon law. In the Pastoral Letter to Irish Catholics on March19, he told the nation's bishops, "Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence."
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also affirmed the same tack in guidelines that it issued on April 12 about canonical procedures for cases involving the sexual abuse of a minor. Those norms underscored that “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.”
In Malta on April 17, meeting with victims of abuse, a Vatican statement reported that the Pope told them "that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."