Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Saturday, May 18, 2002


The document came to light because it was referenced in a footnote to a May 18, 2002, letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, to the bishops of the world regarding new procedures for sex abuse cases.

Crimen sollicitationis is a secret document issued by the Holy Office of the Vatican (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in 1962, instructing bishops about how to handle cases in which priests were accused of using the privacy of the confessional to make sexual advances to penitents. The document also instructs bishops on how to handle cases of the "worst crime", in which a priest is sexually involved with an animal, child, or man. Canon lawyers disagree about the extent to which the document is still in force.

The document calls for such cases to be handled in secret, and extends that secrecy to the document itself. The document imposes secrecy even upon victims of sexual abuse. Extreme penalties for violations of secrecy, including excommunication that can only be dismissed by the pope himself, are imposed. Perhaps as a result, some bishops claim not to have known of its existence.

Crimen sollicitationis came to light in 2002, in the context of new procedures for handling accusations that priests had sexually abused minors. Lawyers involved in cases against the church have argued that the document is evidence of obstruction of justice. In response, defenders of church policy have argued that the policy of secrecy extended only to Canon law actions up to and including defrocking of a priest, and would not have prevented a bishop from reporting accusations of child molestation to the civil authorities. They also argue that, because the document was a secret, it is unlikely to have influenced the actions of church officials.