Crimen sollicitationis a 1962 document by the Catholic Church describing how various matters should be handled by Church law. I have heard differing claims from various people as to whether the penalty of excommunication applied to a victim reporting their case to the civil authorities. Can anyone confirm how this document was applied?


I've never heard of instruction before you brought up the question, but I figured I'd better actually read a bit of it before making a judgement. Because I am a Catholic, I always know the Church is teaching the right thing even if it is misunderstood or poorly applied. Here it is, by the way, so you can read for yourself and find out what's not in there.

“A member of the faithful who, in violation of the (aforementioned) prescription of Canon 904, knowingly disregards the obligation to denounce within a month the person by whom he or she was solicited, incurs an excommunication latae sententiae reserved to no one, which is not to be lifted until he or she has satisfied the obligation, or has promised seriously to do so”

So, one is excommunicated if they don't report the crime to church authorities

However, a little farther down you might read:

Before the one making the denunciation is dismissed, he is to be administered the oath to maintain confidentiality, as above, if necessary under pain of excommunication reserved to the local Ordinary or to the Holy See

And think, that if someone reported the same crime to the police that they reported to the church that they would incur excommunication. But, why on earth would someone report the crime to both places? Nothing in the document says that it is a crime for the laity to report a crime to the police. However, in the time of this writing sexual harassment and a whole host of other perversions were not dealt with by the police the way they do now, so this may have been the only recourse some people had (and this is a global document and a translation of one at that) so it may have greater weight in more Catholic countries than the USA and Australia.

But, as for implementation, the National Catholic Register has a good interview with priest who says:

A: A poor English translation of that text has led people to think that the Holy See imposed secrecy in order to hide the facts. But this was not so. Secrecy during the investigative phase served to protect the good name of all the people involved; first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right - as everyone does - to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Church does not like showcase justice. Norms on sexual abuse have never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/promoting_justice_prosecuting_paedophiles#ixzz29YkcXKcv

So, there it is, it's never been understood as a ban on denouncing crimes.


First, I want to say that most of the abuse did not start coming to light until the mid 1980's, and that the 1983 Code of Canon Law has language that removes the teeth from that document (in 1983, all previous canon laws end extra-canon penal definitions were made void).

You can find the text of the document at Vatican.va, but I found the supplemental documents in a PDF from CBS.

The TLDR; version is that there is little in the document which actually refers to layman. The only way one can be excommunicated is:

  1. If the layman is made aware that he has a duty to bring this to the attention of the local Ordinary (Ordinary = bishop, unless the diocese does not have one at the moment) but fails to act. (cf. 18)
  2. The local Ordinary excommunicates him (which is pretty much in the Ordinary's authority anyway)

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