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  Home :: 2006 July :: Excerpts: Vatican document
Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK 
In a document addressed to "all patriarchs,archbishops, bishops and other diocesan ordinaries", the Vatican givesinstructions on the "manner of proceeding in cases of solicitations":

The text, it adds, is to be "diligently stored in the secretarchives... as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published noradded to with any commentaries".

Some excerpts follow:

The crime of solicitation takes place when a priesttempts a penitent, whoever that person is, either in the act ofsacramental confession, whether before or immediately afterwards,whether on the occasion or the pretext of confession, whether evenoutside the times for confession in the confessional or [in a place]other than that [usually] designated for the hearing of confessions or[in a place] chosen for the simulated purpose of hearing aconfession...

[The object of this temptation] is to solicit or provoke[the penitent] toward impure and obscene matters, whether by words orsigns or nods of the head, whether by touch or by writing whether thenor after [the note has been read] or whether he has had with [thatpenitent] prohibited and improper speech or activity with recklessdaring...

The Ordinary of the place in these cases is the judgeeven for regulars [religious], even though exempt. It is indeedstrictly prohibited for their superiors to interpose themselves incases pertaining to the Holy Office.

However, having safeguarded the right of the Ordinary,there is nothing to prevent superiors themselves, if by chance theyhave discovered [one of their] subjects delinquent in theadministration of the sacrament of Penance, from being able and havingthe obligation of being diligently watchful over those same persons,and, even having administered salutary penances, to admonish andcorrect, and, if the case demands it, to remove him from some ministry.

They will also be able to transfer him to another[assignment], unless the Ordinary of the place has forbidden it becausehe has already accepted the denunciation and has begun the inquisition.

Although, as a rule, a single judge, by reason of itssecrecy, is prescribed for cases of this type, it is not forbidden,however, for the Ordinary in the more difficult cases to approve one ortwo assessors and counsellors, selected from the synodal judges; oreven to three judges, likewise chosen from the synodal judges, to handover the case to the judges to be handled with the mandate ofproceeding collegially...

Minor helpers are to be used for nothing unless it isabsolutely necessary; and these are to be chosen, in so far aspossible, from the priestly order; always, however, they are to beproved faithfulness and mature without exception.

Because, however, what is treated in these cases has tohave a greater degree of care and observance so that those same mattersbe pursued in a most secretive way, and, after they have been definedand given over to execution, they are to be restrained by a perpetualsilence, each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way oradmitted to knowledge of the matters because of their office, is toobserve the strictest secret... under the penalty of excommunication.

The oath of keeping the secret must be given in thesecases also by the accusers of those denouncing [the priest] and thewitnesses.

First knowledge of the crime

Since the crime of solicitation takes place in ratherrare decisions, lest it remain occult and unpunished and always withinestimable detriments to souls, it was necessary for the one person,as for many persons, conscious of that [act of solicitation], namely,the solicited penitent, to be compelled to reveal it through adenunciation imposed by positive law. Therefore:

The penitent must denounce the accused priest of thedelict of solicitation in confession within a month to the Ordinary ofthe place or to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office; and theconfessor must, burdened seriously in conscience, to warn the penitentof this duty.

The faithful, however, who knowingly have disregardedthe obligation to denounce the person by whom he was solicited, withina month, falls into an excommunication, not to be absolved unless afterhe has satisfies the obligation or has promised seriously that he woulddo so.

The duty of denunciation is a personal one and is to be fulfilled regularly by the person himself who has been solicited.

Anonymous denunciations generally must be rejected.However, they can have supportive force or give the occasion forfurther investigations, if the particular circumstances of the mattersinvolved render an accusation probable.

The obligation of denunciation on the part of thesolicited penitent does not cease because of a spontaneous confessionby the soliciting confessor done by chance, nor because of his beingtransferred, promoted, condemned, or presumably reformed and otherreasons of the same kind. It ceases, however, at his death.

Before [the person making the denunciation] isdismissed, there should be presented to him, as above, an oath ofobserving the secret, threatening him, if there is a need, with anexcommunication reserved to the Ordinary or to the Holy See.

The process

If two witnesses cannot be found where each individualknows both the denounced and the denouncer, or if they cannot beinterrogated at the same time without the danger of scandal or withoutdetriment to the good name concerning him, then arrangements to bemade, so that two persons, by means of a divided [testimony], namely,interrogate two witnesses only about the denounced and another two onlyabout the individual denouncers.

In this case, however, it will be necessary to inquireelsewhere as to whether hatred, enmity or any other human disaffectionagainst the denunciated [priest] was the case.

If it is evident that the denunciation totally lacks afoundation, [the priest] should order this to be declared in the Acts,and the documents of the accusation should be destroyed.

If the indications of the crime are vague andindeterminate or uncertain, he should order that the Acts be put intothe archives, to be taken up again if something else happens in thefuture.

If, however, there are indications of a crime seriousenough but not yet sufficient to institute an accusatorial process, heshould order that the accused be admonished according to the different[types of] cases the first or second [time?], paternally, seriously ormost seriously, adding, if necessary, an explicit threat of the trialprocess, should some other new accusation is laid upon [the accused]meanwhile, a check should be kept on the morale of the accused.


Those who are in danger of falling back [into theirformer ways], and therefore of becoming greater recidivists should besubmitted to particular vigilance.

As often as, in the prudent judgment of the Ordinary, itseems necessary for the amendment of the delinquent, for the removal ofthe near occasion [of soliciting in the future], or for the preventionof scandal or reparation for it, there should be added a prescriptionfor a prohibition of remaining in a certain place.

Official communications

Whenever an Ordinary immediately accepts a denunciationof the crime of solicitation, he should not omit telling this to theHoly Office. And if by chance he treats of a priest whether secular orreligious having residence in another territory, he should transmit atthe same time, an authentic copy of the denunciation itself.

Any Ordinary who has proceeded correctly against somepriest who is soliciting should not omit to informing the HolyCongregation of the Holy Office, and, if it is a matter in which areligious is involved, also the General Superior concerning the outcomeof the case.

If any priests condemned of the crime of solicitation,or even only admonished, should transfer his residence to anotherterritory, [one] Ordinary should immediately warn the [other] Ordinaryof the things that preceded that person and of his juridical status.

If any priests suspended in a case of solicitation fromhearing sacramental confessions but not from sacred preaching happensto go to another territory to preach, the Ordinary of this territoryshould be reminded by the prelate or the accused, whether secular orreligious, that he cannot be utilised for hearing sacramentalconfessions.

All these official communications shall always be madeunder the secret of the Holy Office; and, since they concern the commongood of the church to the greatest degree, the precept of doing thesethings obliges under serious sin [sub gravi].

From the audience of the Holy Father, 16 March 1962

Our Most Holy Father John XXIII, in an audience grantedto the most eminent Cardinal Secretary of the Holy Office on 16 March1962, deigned to approve and confirm this instruction, ordering uponthose to whom it pertains to keep and observe it in the minutestdetail.

At Rome, from the Office of the Sacred Congregation, 16 March 1962.

Place of the seal

A Cardinal Ottaviani


The formula for taking an oath to exercise one's office faithfully and to observe the secret of the Holy Office

I promise sacredly, vow and swear, to observe inviolablythe secret in all matters and details which will take place inexercising the aforesaid duty.

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia