In an interview with the Italian socialist newspaper âRepubblica,â the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Cardinal Julian Herranz, said it was false that the Holy See hides or protects priests guilty of abuse or sexual misconduct, and that instead abusive priests receive âvery serious punishmentsâ of an ecclesial nature that pose no detriment to civil proceedings.
The interview focused on the BBC documentary âSexual Crimes and the Vatican,â which was supposedly based on an internal memo of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document reaffirmed the inviolability of the seal of confession, but the documentary said was intended to âprotect and hideâ abusive priests.
Cardinal Herranz told âRepubblicaâ that canonical legislation includes âvery harsh penalties, the maximum that can be inflicted upon a priest.â The publication also places, âthe well-being of childrenâ¦ at the very heart of the Church, just as it was at the heart of Jesus Christ.â
The cardinal explained that the document upon which the British documentary was based, the 1962 Vatican instruction âCrimen Sollicitationes,â not only was not intended to shield possible abusers from canonical penalties, but that it must be interpreted in light of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which âconsiders these kinds of acts as very serious offenses and gives precise indications on procedures and penalties.â
Cardinal Herranz explained that faced with a possible case of abuse, the bishop has the duty to open an immediate investigation with three main objectives: âpreventing scandal, safeguarding the freedom of the witnesses, and guaranteeing that justice is done.â
The process could lead to the suspension of the priest, including his complete removal from the clerical state, without prejudicing any civil proceedings which may be initiated.
Cardinal Herranz denounced the âdishonest intentionsâ of the documentary, which attempted to implicate Pope Benedict XVI when he was still prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,â however, in reality, âin 1962, he was merely a priest.â
According to the Spanish priest, the BBC report, which will soon be aired in Italy on the RAI network, âaims to sully the face of the Church and smear the Catholic priesthood.â