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Conflicts between canon law and the Dallas proposal

Canon lawyers have identified several conflicts between canon law and the Dallas norms, or the implementation of the Dallas norms in individual dioceses. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has said the norms are to be carried out in accordance with canon law, but some canonists call that a seemingly impossible mandate. One major difference is that canon law says a priest can be removed from ministry only after a judicial trial or by the Vatican. But canonists say that has been widely ignored by bishops who have removed accused priests from ministry.

Dallas norms
Canon law

Diocesan/eparchial policy will provide that even for a single act of sexual abuse of a minor past, present, or future the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.

Has a statute of limitations, known as prescription, which says that acts of sexual misconduct committed before a certain time are too old to be prosecuted. But the norms say even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor, no matter how long ago, will result in a priest being permanently removed from ministry.

When the preliminary investigation so indicates, the bishop will relieve the offender promptly of his ministerial duties.

Considers removal from ministry a penalty of last resort for abusers. But it is the only penalty allowed in the norms.

In every instance dioceses will advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and will support this right.

Each diocese will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness.

Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substanial reasons brought forth by the victim/survivor.

Guarantees confidentiality to priests accused of sexual misconduct. But canonists say that is difficult to reconcile with the bishops' pledge of transparency and openness when dealing with sex abuse, and has been violated by the actions of many dioceses to publicize names of accused priests.

... the accused is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel.

Gives accused priests an opportunity to respond to accusations against them, entitles them to legal counsel, and guarantees them confidentiality during the administrative process. But few of those principles have been observed, as scores of priests have been removed from ministry this year.

If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender is to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb, or to present himself as a priest.

Several canonists said canon law casts doubt on whether a bishop can order an accused priest not to wear his clerical collar or present himself as a priest unless the priest has been found guilty through a canonical process. But accused priests have routinely been stripped of their collars and the title "father."

Compiled by Kathleen Hennrickus and Sacha Pfeiffer of the Globe Staff

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