Definition of Sexual Abuse
[Footnote to the Charter text]: Notice that a sexual offense violative of §2 need not be a complete act of intercourse, nor should the term necessarily be equated with the definitions of sexual abuse or other crimes in civil law. "Sexual abuse [includes] contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult. A child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not is is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome" (Canadian Conference of Bishops, From Pain to Hope, 1992, p. 20).
If there is any doubt about whether a specific act fulfills this definition, the writings of recognized moral theologians should be consulted and, if necessary, the opinion of a recognized expert be obtained (Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State, 1995, p. 6). We also note that diocesan/eparchial policies must be in accord with the civil law.
Responding to Allegations of Abuse
Dioceses will report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. They will cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses will cooperate with public authorities about reporting in cases when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses will advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and will support this right.
We repeat the words of our Holy Father in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers: "There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young."
When the preliminary investigation of a complaint (cc. 1717-1719) against a priest or deacon so indicates, the diocesan bishop will relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties (cf. c. 1722). The alleged offender will be referred for appropriate medical and psychological evaluation, so long as this does not interfere with the investigation by civil authorities. When the accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the priest or deacon.
Dealing With Perpetrators
Where sexual abuse by a priest or a deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law, the following will pertain:
Each diocese will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness. Within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved, dioceses will deal as openly as possible with members of the community. This is especially so with regard to assisting and supporting parish communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct involving minors.
Dioceses will have mechanisms in place to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred. Dioceses will have a competent assistance coordinator to aid in the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other church personnel. Dioceses ill also have a review board, the majority of whose members will be lay persons not in the employ of the diocese. This board will assist the diocesan bishop in assessing allegations and fitness for ministry, and will regularly review diocesan policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors. Also, the board can act both retrospectively and prospectively on these matters and give advice on all aspects of responses required in connection with these cases. The procedures for those making a complaint will be readily available in printed form and will be the subject of periodic public announcements.
When a cleric is proposed for a new assignment, transfer, residence in another diocese, or diocese in a country other than the United States, or residence in the local community of a religious institute, the sending bishop or major superior will forward and the receiving bishop or major superior will review-before assignment-an accurate and complete description of the cleric's record, including whether there is anything in his background or service that would raise questions about his fitness for ministry.