Canonical penal process vs civil enquiry


Does the superior has any moral obligation to intimate police a criminal allegation against a member of his community before or along with initiating a penal process according to canon law #1717?


That depends. Not every delict in Canon Law which a superior is empowered to investigate by this Canon carries with it the potential for civil penalties. In other words, a superior couldn’t have a moral obligation to report something that is a crime under Canon Law but not under civil law. The civil authorities would respond with “who cares?” to a report like that.



Just my two cents, of course, but it seems to me that the OP is assuming that the crime committed is in fact actionable under both canon law and civil law. In which case, what is asked is, in the light of canon 1717, does the superior have the obligation to report such a crime to civil authorities, before or along with initiating the penal process under canon law?

In such a case, the superior is not obligated to contact civil authorities prior to the conclusion of the canonical investigation. In fact, given canon 1717, it would seem like he is in fact forbidden from doing so. The right to privacy, under canon law, is taken even more seriously than under civil law, and unless the penal process has concluded and yes, the person did commit the crime, the superior is obligated to ensure that the good name of the person is protected, and no appearance of even the possibility that the person committed the crime must be made.


I’m not sure that’s the case. The procedure for reporting sexual abuse in most Dioceses is to first call the civil authorities and then to call the ecclesiastical ones.


Thank you all. It was in deed helpful. So the superior need not report to the civil authorities even if the crime is punishable under civil law. Even when the superior finds the accused guilty he must not report to police. But what if the criminal law of the state demands reporting of such a crime? Can the superior still refuse to report it to the police?

Suppose, if the accuser has approached the civil authorities instead of the accused’s religious superiors and the civil authorities have found the accused guilty how should the canonical penalties be initiated? Do they need a canonical investigation then?


These links may be helpful:

Concerning abuse cases, I would assume that the civil authorities should be contacted at some point, but it should not be done by the superior at least before preliminary canonical investigations are completed and the CDF notified. By contacting civil authorities, the superior may indirectly violate the accused’s right to privacy under canon law, at least before the conclusion of preliminary investigations.

After all, the preliminary investigations may prove that the accused is not actually guilty of the crime. Now if the civil authorities were contacted too early, there is the possibility of injury to the accused’s good name. With the scandals going on in the Church today and the tension with the media, it is very likely that if what was supposed to be a private preliminary investigation (under canon law) may accidentally become public, and then the priest may be unjustly considered “guilty until proven innocent”.

The Church needs to find a delicate balance between avoiding injuring the good names of the priests, especially if they may actually be innocent, and making it absolutely clear that sexual abuse and covering it up are NOT supported by Church teaching in any way, shape, or form.


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