CBS finds a forty-year old Holy Office document concerning the process by which priests accused of abusing their role as confessors for sexual advantage are to be handled ecclesiastically. *. Everyone involved in the case, including the accuser, is to be bound by a perpetual oath of secrecy under pain of excommunication.

CBS posts on its website hard-to-read .pdfs of the document, Crimen Sollicitationis in Engish * and Latin *.

The church defends itself from the accusation that the document, which apparently was in force as recently as 2001, was designed to cover up sexual abuse by priests:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the document is being taken out of context, that it’s a church law that deals only with religious crimes and sins. And that the secrecy is meant to protect the faithful from scandal.

“The idea that this is some sort of blueprint to keep this secret is simply wrong,” said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the Conference.“This is a system of law which is complete in itself and is not telling the bishops in any way about how to handle these crimes when they are considered as civil crimes,” Maniscalco said.

It’s true that the document doesn’t tell the bishops how to handle such cases as civil crimes, because the document never contemplates that civil prosecution is even a possibility. But once the complainant has been bound on oath and under penalty of excommunication “to keep the secret,” (see paragraphs 11 and 13 in the first section of the document, “Preliminaries,” *) it’s hard to see how a criminal case could ever be brought.

And yes, in case you were wondering, that’s the same Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) that thinks that allowing children otherwise condemned to life in orphanages or foster homes to be adopted by gay couples would mean “actually doing violence to these children.” (Paragraph 7 *.)

I think non-Catholics sometimes fail to appreciate the Vatican’s wry sense of humor.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: