According to information published by the daily Rzeczpospolita, in December 2021 the Holy See, through the Apostolic Nuncio in Poland, sent Polish bishops an instruction “for internal use” forbidding them to communicate to the authorities files of canon law proceedings against clerics in cases of sexual abuse of minors.
According to the Holy See, these cases fall within the exclusive competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and must be forwarded to Rome by the Polish bishops. The national authorities must make a request to the Holy See through diplomatic channels; the Holy See reserves the right to assess the merits of the request. In the words of the Polish Bishops’ Conference’s delegate for the protection of children and young people (sic!):
“Cases concerning the abuse of minors are reserved in the Catholic Church to the jurisdiction of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, thus, criminal or judicial canonical proceedings are conducted in the dioceses or religious congregations under its authority. Therefore, access to the files of the proceedings must be done through diplomatic channels by means of a request for international legal assistance requesting access to the documentation of a specific canonical procedure under the jurisdiction of the Holy See. In this case, therefore, we are dealing with a relationship between the Polish government and the authorities of the Holy See, and not between a state commission and the Church in Poland.”
The Holy See is obstructing the proper functioning of justice. In this way, it prevents the progress of criminal investigations in many cases of suspected sexual crimes against minors by Catholic priests, as well as cover-ups and inaction by their superiors.
In addition, by limiting the possibility of communicating only documents in specific cases, the Holy See hinders the proper functioning of the State Commission for Sexual Crimes against Minors, which is responsible for investigating all cases of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 15. The Holy See continues to hinder the emergence of the truth in cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.
The Catholic Church is not a state within the State. The clergy is subject to the common law, and is bound by the duty to alert the competent authorities in case of suspected crimes. Members of the clergy, whatever their rank, must cooperate with the state bodies responsible for investigating sexual crimes against minors. They cannot hide behind the rules of their religious organisation. Finally, the Holy See, which exercises hierarchical authority over the clergy, must refrain from interfering in the functioning of state justice. On the contrary, it must shed full light on these crimes.
It should be recalled that the Holy See is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted, “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above the child’s best interests.”
It is high time this stops.