Saturday, February 25, 2017


Q: What does a sexual abuse trial look like when conducted under canon law?

A: It is similar to criminal trials that take place in some European countries that follow a different legal tradition than that of the United States. Because of this, the canon law trial will not appear similar to those we might be familiar with in the United States. A panel of three judges hears the case. The accused has a canon lawyer to assist in his defense. The prosecutor is referred to as the “promoter of justice.” Tribunals in both a diocese and the CDF have promoters of justice. Witnesses are called to testify, including possible victims. The judges, rather than the canon lawyers, question the witnesses. Other forms of evidence are gathered, such as letters that might have been written. After this the defense canon lawyer and promoter of justice submit written arguments of their sides of the case. The judges then review the evidence carefully, deliberate together, and issue a verdict. If the finding is for guilt, the judges also impose a penalty (see below for types of Church penalties).

Questions and Answers Regarding the Canonical Process for the Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons.

It's both telling and amusing that the title of this Q&A, which is put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, does not include "bishops," but assumes that all abuse of minors is by a priest or deacon. Nevertheless, this publication will help us to understand more about a canonical trial. 

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