VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has established a special body within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to speed up the process of hearing and ruling on appeals filed by priests laicized or otherwise disciplined in sexual abuse or other serious cases.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Nov. 11 that the members of the doctrinal congregation had been examining an average of four or five appeals, mostly in sex abuse cases, at each of their monthly meetings.
“Because of the number of appeals and the need to guarantee a more rapid examination of them,” Pope Francis has instituted a “college” within the congregation to judge cases involving priests, said a note from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, presenting the text of the papal order.
A case involving a bishop accused of abuse or other serious crimes would continue to be examined and judged by the entire membership of the doctrinal congregation during one of its regular monthly meetings, says the order, officially known as a “rescript.”
Already in May, the Vatican had indicated Pope Francis was establishing the college. In a brief note May 19, the Vatican press office announced the pope had nominated Argentine Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosario to be a member of the doctrinal congregation “in the commission being established to examine the appeals of clergy for ‘delicta graviora,'” the Vatican term for sexual abuse of minors and serious sins against the sacraments.
Pope Francis’ order establishing the college said it would be made up of “seven cardinals or bishops,” who may or may not be members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The pope himself will name the members, none of whom was announced when the rescript was published Nov. 11.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told a committee there May 6 that, between 2004 and 2013, the Holy See dismissed 848 priests from the priesthood as a result of sex abuse allegations found to be true. In another 2,572 cases — mainly involving priests of an advanced age — the men were ordered to have no contact with children and were ordered to retreat to a life of prayer and penance.
According to church law, bishops and superiors of religious orders are required to inform the doctrinal congregation of all accusations against priests that have “at least the semblance of truth” and to work under the congregation’s direction in judging the case. However, the congregation itself can conduct the trial or even use an administrative process to remove a man from the priesthood.