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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/6/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

The answer literally dates back to centuries of decrees.

In the wake of the UN report on child sex abuse cover up in the Church, many people are asking why is it that is sacred institution, tasked with leading souls to salvation, and granted the highest moral authority on the planet, would it do everything it possibly could to protect children?

A fateful decree by Pope Pius XI in 1922 unexpectedly set the stage for the child abuse scandals of the following decades.

A fateful decree by Pope Pius XI in 1922 unexpectedly set the stage for the child abuse scandals of the following decades.


By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (

2/6/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: child sex abuse, vatican, papal decree, cover up, scandal, Puis XI

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - For most people, why the Church would seemingly cover up the criminal behavior of abusive priests and clergy remains an enduring mystery - and a scandal! It simply makes no sense that the one institution on the planet, with the highest moral authority investment, would do so little to discipline those who abuse children.

For the past century, some priests have largely gone unpunished for their crimes against children, protected by which should be the world's most trusted institution. Yet since the 1980s and 90s, case after case surfaced that demonstrated the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, meaning its bishops and archbishops, had knowledge of predatory priests, and instead of reporting those priests to the civil authorities, seemed to cover up the crimes and either fire the priests, shuffle them off to seclusion and treatment, or in the worst cases, sent them to other parishes where they continued to abuse children.

Please pray for the victims of abuse in the Church.

Only in rare cases, were the priests actually handed over and prosecuted by the civil authorities. Why was this so?

The answer apparently goes all the way back to Vatican City, and a special decree issued by Pope Pius XI in 1922. That decree reinforced 1,500 years of previous papal decrees upholding what is known as the "privilege of clergy." The term "privilege" in legal parlance does not refer to special treatment but to a concept within the law of evidence.

Privilege of clergy is a church policy first establish in the fourth century. It holds that the clergy of the Church, when accused of crime, should be disciplined within the Church, rather than by civil institutions.The Church has a Code of Canon Law and a judicial process, including penalties, rules of evidence, and trials established within her - as a part of her internal government as a society in her own right. 

This privilege of clergy was eventually dismissed in 1917 with the first Code of Canon Law in the church. Canon Law published at that time decreed that priests were to be handed over to civil authorities if they broke civil laws. Specifically it stated that, child sex abusers were to be handed over to the courts.

In response to this, Pope Pius XI issued a decree in 1922 that effectively imposed a veil of confidentiality over any allegations of child sex abuse against the clergy, pending proper procedural  review. That decree has remained in effect since then. We now know what the unintended end result of that decree was in these awful and evil accounts we have heard about or read about.

This helps us make sense of why some high-ranking bishops, and even cardinals of the church, would seem to do all they could to keep child abusers away from civil prosecution. It's not that they  had sympathy with the abusers, or feared embarrassment, but rather they felt they had a higher loyalty to the direction of the church and that, as a juridic authority in its own riight, the Church would handle such allegations of what is an intrinsically evil action.

In recent years, Church policy has been definitively changed to address this precise issue. The papal decree issued by Pope Pius XI 1922 was not issued under any interpretation of papal infallibility. It was a procedural directive intended to keep the matter in the legal system of the Church for prosecution. This is a blatant case of a Pope issuing a decree that in hindsight was infinitely fallible. Although Pope Pius may have intended to preserve the Church of his day from secular abuses, given that the Church faced unique threats from unfriendly government and secular institutions, the decree became obsolete in the years following its issue.

Unfortunately, until now, nobody has bothered to revisit the decree.

Hopefully now, between the joint efforts of Popes Benedict and Francis, that will change, forever. After all, it must, we expect it to, and now.

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