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Catholic World News News Feature

New Rules Give Vatican Responsibility For Certain Clerical Discipline January 07, 2002

VATICAN, Jan 7, 02 ( - Pope John Paul II has issued a new policy document, giving the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsibility for handling the discipline of priests who commit "grave offenses" against the sacraments or the sexual abuse of children.

The policy is set out in a "motu proprio," which was published today in Acta Apostolica Sedes, the official annals of the Holy See. The four-page document, written in Latin and entitled "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela," is dated May 19, 2001, and has already been conveyed to all the world's bishops by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The motu proprio has the effect of changing certain aspects of Canon Law, giving new authority to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That Congregation is authorized to respond to cases in which priests commit any of certain specific offenses. The offenses listed-- eight in number-- concern the Eucharist, the sacrament of Penance, and immoral behavior.

The listed offenses against the Eucharist include disrespectful treatment of the sacred species, "concelebrating" with an individual who is not an ordained Catholic priest, or celebrating Mass for sacrilegious purposes. Offenses against Penance include using the sacrament as a pretext for soliciting sexual partners, and violating the seal of confession. Another category of "grave offenses" is "sin against the 6th Commandment committed with a minor of less than 18 years."

When these offenses are reported, Cardinal Ratzinger informs the world's bishops and religious superiors that they should conduct an investigation of the charges, and also notify the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The disciplinary response is reserved to that Vatican body. The Vatican will maintain records of all such disciplinary cases for 10 years, except in pedophilia cases, for which the files will remain open for 18 years.

The purpose of the new disciplinary policy, Cardinal Ratzinger explains in a letter accompanying the motu proprio, is "not only to avoid these grave sins but also to protect the sanctity of the clergy and the faithful through the necessary sanctions and pastoral care."

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