and that the Allegation Against a Cleric is Not Manifestly False or Frivolous


One of the delicts against morals that is reserved to the CDF is the delict against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years.

This delict includes:

  • The acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology, cf. Normae de gravioribus delictus (Art. 6) CDF May 2010;
  • Sexual abuse of a minor that occurs in the context of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Burdens of proof

In the canonical process there are three different stages, with three different levels of proof. These are referred to by three different terms:

  1. Semblance of truth – the lowest level of proof; this is what is required for the Bishop

to begin the preliminary investigation;

  1. Probability that a delict did or did not occur – a threshold that is a little higher than the

semblance of truth. This is what the preliminary investigation looks for. The word ‘probable’ is used here in the literal sense, i.e. the possibility of proving a delict in a canonical trial;

  1. Moral Certainty – what a canonical trial looks for.

When is  the CDF notified?

Although the CDF can be consulted at any stage during the case management process, the formal notification begins at Point 5 in 2.28.

  • In circumstances where an allegation has been substantiated within the statutory forum, in terms of a criminal prosecution, this information must be incorporated into a report that is forwarded with the Bishop’s votum to the CDF, using (S4.43)
  • If the allegation is unsubstantiated within the statutory forum, but where there continue to be reasonable grounds for concern regarding a reserved delict, (S4.43) – along with the votum of the Bishop– should be compiled and forwarded either directly to the CDF (diocesan clergy) or through the superior general to the CDF (religious order).

The CDF will investigate using the burdens of proof outlined on the previous page, and will make a determination on the status of the respondent based on the facts presented, affording all canonical rights and entitlements to the respondent.

A respondent who has received a conviction for an offence against a child, or who has been found guilty under canon law, may be requested to seek laicisation. If they refuse, a process of dismissal, in accordance with the norms of canon law, may be initiated. Once it has been established, by whatever means, that sexual abuse has occurred, the respondent should not be permitted to return to ministry and the statutory authorities are informed.

In circumstances where a decision has been made to allow the respondent to remain a priest/Brother/Sister, a permanent management plan must be put in place (2.33). This requires that, among other things, the respondent refrains from having any unsupervised contact with children, does not wear clerical/religious clothes and does not exercise any form of public ministry, and that they remain under supervision. Specific measures are determined by the Bishop, with advice from the advisory panel or NCMC. Compliance is monitored by the DLP or other properly appointed personnel. The DLP is responsible for putting in place a system of monitoring by taking on this responsibility or appointing someone else to do so.

Those who remain a member of the diocese/religious order and who are ‘out of ministry’ should be provided with support and encouraged to rebuild their lives in a spirit of repentance and reparation. Any new concerns must be reported to the statutory services, in accordance with the procedure outlined in Standard 2 (2.2). In certain circumstances, such concerns are also notified to the CDF. If the CDF inquiries are inconclusive and further inquiries are required, an appropriate interim management plan should remain in place, proportionate to the level of risk to children, whilst the advice of the advisory panel, NCMC and the statutory authorities is sought.