How Canon Law Punishes Sexual Abuse of Minors

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Pope Francis, World News

By Emily Drooby

This past weekend many sexual abuse survivors were outside the Vatican sex abuse summit to share their frustration over what they call a lack of action when it comes to abusers.

Peter Isely, the Director, Ending Clergy Abuse told reporters, “We’ve been here talking about zero tolerance, written into Church law.”

While an unnamed victim said, “There’s no name, there’s no date, there’s no concrete measures. They are just words and more words.”

In most American states, civil law provides only a narrow window of time for alleged abusers to be prosecuted. It’s different under the Church’s canon law. A good example is former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, found guilty of sexually abusing minors and subsequently expelled from the priesthood long after the first offense was committed.

Canon Law Expert within the Brooklyn Diocese, Father Peter J. Purpura, explained the severity of the punishment, “It’s the gravest penalty that corresponds to the gravest crime.”

Canon law experts explained, being removed from the priesthood is the worst punishment Church law can inflict.

Father Purpura further explained, “It’s very significant because it means the loss of all rights and obligations in the church, it no longer publicly recognizes a priest they’re no longer entitled to the sustenance of the church, they’re not longer to minister”

While Monsignor Jonas Achacoso, Adjutant Judicial Vicar on the Diocese of Brooklyn Tribunal, explained, “it is very painful and humiliating.”

However being found guilty by the Church rarely results in jail time.

Monsignor Achacoso, said, “Our punishment does not involve imprisonment first of all because we don’t have prison cells inside our churches what we have is more of a moral and spiritual side of the punishment by humiliation, degradation.”

The civil statutes of limitation can make it hard for people accused of sexual abuse to be brought to trial because of time restraints. For the church to take up abuse cases, canon law is more flexible.  With time limits up to 20 years and the possibility of an extension.

On the secular front in New York, the recently signed Child Victims Act changed the criminal statute of limitations making it so victims would be able to press felony charges until they’re 28 years old, file civil suits until they’re 55 years old, and allow anyone previously barred from suing because of the statute of limitations to do so during a one-time-only period that would last a year.