Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors
By Priests or Deacons
As Christians and Maronites we consider the welfare and protection of our children a sacred responsibility. We hereby promulgate the following Eparchial norms as an implementation of Essential norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons approved by the Congregation for Bishops on December 8, 2002.
Sexual Abuse of a minor includes sexual molestation or sexual exploitation of a minor and other behavior by which an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification. The norm to be considered in assessing an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is whether conduct or interaction with a minor qualifies as an external, objectively grave violation of the sixth commandment.
- The healing of victims, their families and their community from the effects of sexual abuse by church leaders begins when the allegations of such abuse are received. When victims decide to disclose the abuse, it is important that the response they receive is compassionate and non-judgmental.
- Anyone receiving an allegation of abuse will respond in a pastoral, supportive manner, leaving investigative concerns to those who serve in that role.
- An allegation will be received without initial judgment as to the truth of the complaint. No intimation of blame will be made by the initial recipient of information.
- Individuals making allegations will be supported positively in their decision to disclose.
- The Eparchial Bishop will designate a competent person to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused when they were minors by priests or deacons. This "assistance-coordinator" will assess and respond to the immediate and long term needs of the alleged victim and family, the alleged offender, parish communities and others that are affected by the disclosure of sex abuse.
- The assistance-coordinator will serve as a consultant to the eparchial bishop and the review board regarding the treatment needs of clients.
The review board is a predominantly lay board composed of a variety of professionals duly appointed to assist the bishop in a strictly confidential consultative capacity. It will have no final, decision-making authority, which authority will continue to reside exclusively with the bishop.
- To advise the eparchial bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry;
- To review eparchial policies for dealing with sexual abuse of minors;
- To offer advice on all aspects of sexual abuse cases, whether retrospectively or prospectively.
The review board, established by the eparchial bishop, will be composed of 5 members of outstanding integrity and good judgment in full communion with the Church. The majority of the board will be lay persons who are not in the employ of the eparchy. These will include:
- a person with particular expertise in the treatment of sexual abuse of minors;
- a parent;
- a parish priest;
- an attorney; and
- an individual with investigative experience.
The bishop may deem it desirable that the Promoter of Justice participate in the meetings of the review board.
Members appointed by the eparchial bishop will serve a five year term All board members will adhere to the rules of strict confidentiality with regard to all deliberations and information received.
In all cases of alleged or suspected or known child abuse committed by a cleric, the Eparchy will comply with all applicable civil laws in respect to reporting the allegations and will cooperate with civil authorities in the investigation.
Any cleric, who knows from the external forum that a minor has been sexually abused, is required to report that knowledge or suspicion to the Eparchial Bishop and to the civil authorities in accordance with the norms of canon law.
- When an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is received, a preliminary investigation in harmony with canon law will be initiated and conducted promptly and objectively (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches [CCEO], c. 1468). The purpose of the eparchial investigation is to ensure that the bishop has a complete, thorough, and accurate report of the alleged incident. The investigation will be conducted by an investigator appointed by the review board. The investigator will report his findings in writing to the Eparchial bishop and to the review board.
- The accused will immediately be called by the Eparchial Bishop and made aware of the allegation against him and the identity of the accuser. The accused will remain in his position until the initial investigation is completed, which is to be done as expeditiously as possible. All appropriate steps shall be taken to protect the reputation of the accused and the accuser during the investigation. The accused will be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel and will be promptly notified of the results of the investigation.
- When there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, the eparchial bishop will notify the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The Eparchial Bishop shall then apply the precautionary measures mentioned in CCEO, c. 1473 -- that is, remove the alleged offender from the sacred ministry or from any ecclesiastical office or function. The bishop may impose or prohibit residence in a given place or territory, and prohibit the public participation in the Most Holy Eucharist pending the outcome of the process.
- In every case involving canonical penalties, the processes provided for in canon law will be observed, and the various provisions of canon law will be considered. (1) Unless the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, having been notified, calls the case to itself because of special circumstances, the Eparchial Bishop will follow the directions of the Congregation on how to proceed. (2) If the case would otherwise be barred by prescription, because sexual abuse of a minor is a grave offense, the Eparchial Bishop shall apply to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a dispensation from the prescription, while indicating appropriate pastoral reasons.
- For the sake of due process, the accused is encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the eparchy will supply canonical counsel to the cleric.
- The Eparchy will conduct a judicial process of the case according to the appropriate canons and practice of the Church.
- The alleged offender may be requested to seek, and may be urged voluntarily to comply with, an appropriate medical and psychological evaluation at a facility mutually acceptable to the Eparchy and the accused.
- In every instance, the Eparchy will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities.
- No cleric removed from an eparchial position for allegations of sexual abuse of a minor will return to ministry or service before their case is assessed and fitness is determined by the Eparchial Bishop in consultation with the review board. The safety of children is the paramount consideration governing the formation of recommendations regarding the future ministry of one accused of abuse.
- An allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against a cleric will be deemed established if, with due respect for the provisions of canon law:
- The accused individual admits to conduct defined by this policy as sexual abuse; or
- A civil court of criminal law finds the accused guilty of a crime that consists of conduct defined by this policy as sexual abuse, or the accused pleads guilty or no contest to a crime that consists of conduct defined by this policy as sexual abuse; or
- The appropriate church tribunal finds the accused guilty of the crime.
When an act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants.
If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender ought to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy publicly or to administer the mysteries. He will be instructed not to wear clerical garb, or present himself publicly as a priest.
At all times, the Eparchial Bishop has the executive power of clerical governance, through an administrative act, to remove an offending cleric from office, to remove or restrict his faculties, and to limit his exercise of priestly ministry. For the sake of the common good and observing the provisions of canon law, the Eparchial Bishop shall exercise this power of governance to ensure that any priest who has committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor as described above shall not continue in the active ministry.
The priest or deacon may at any time request a dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state. In exceptional cases, the Eparchial Bishop may request of the Holy Father the dismissal of the priest or deacon from the clerical state ex officio, even without the consent of the priest or deacon.
Care will always be taken to protect the rights of all parties involved, particularly those of the person claiming to have been sexually abused and the person against whom the charge has been made. When an accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken by the bishop to restore the good name of the priest or deacon falsely accused.
No priest or deacon who has committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor will be transferred for ministerial assignment to another eparchy/diocese or religious province.
Before a priest or deacon is transferred for residence to another eparchy/diocese or religious province, the Eparchial Bishop shall forward, in a confidential manner, to the local eparch/bishop or religious ordinary of the proposed place of residence any and all information concerning any act of sexual abuse of a minor and any other information indicating that he has been or may be a danger to children or young people.
The Eparchial Bishop will not consider receiving a priest or deacon into the eparchy from another jurisdiction without previously obtaining the necessary information regarding the moral and civil record of the priest or deacon in question.
The Eparchy of Saint Maron will publish a code of ethics and integrity in ministry to be adhered to by all the clergy and persons in positions of trust in the Eparchy.
All eparchial programs designed to certify clerics, eparchial employees, and volunteers who serve children on a regular basis will include segments that address child sexual abuse. The training curriculum will include information concerning: signs and symptoms, dynamics of child abuse, impact of child abuse, intervention strategies, reporting requirements and community resources.
The Eparchy will study the psychological screening currently undertaken to assess all potential candidates for the priesthood and diaconate. The tests given will be reviewed from the perspective of identifying, to the extent possible, potential problems in the area of sexuality. Problem candidates will be disqualified.
A protocol or procedure, including a psychological evaluation, is to be developed to screen clerical personnel from outside the Eparchy before an assignment is given or confirmed by the Eparchial Bishop to minister within the Eparchy of Saint Maron.