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What Canon Law Says
About Overcoming the Scandal of Abuses by Priests

Please help stop all forms of vocations abuses

By Canon Law and moral law, every member of the Church has a right and an obligation to seek protection from all forms of abuses committed by clergy, not just sexual abuses, and not just those that can be proven illegal and the civil courts. While it's a travesty that children have been abused sexually, all forms of abuse are immoral and a crime against divine law. All forms of abuse are grievous to our Lord. All forms of abuse are mistreatments of the flock that the shepherds were ordained to protect. Therefore, all forms of abuse are abominations that hurt the priesthood and the whole Body of Christ.

This list of Canon Laws can be downloaded as a Word document.


Can. 208
Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ's faithful. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ.

Are you concerned about a priest who is working against the building up of the Body of Christ through abusive behavior? Are you suffering from mistreatment by a priest? This law says that you and that priest are equal in dignity. You are to treat him the way you'd like to be treated, as Jesus tells us to in Matt. 7:12. Likewise, if he is harming you in any way, he is tearing down the Body of Christ and is violating this law.

Can. 209
§1 Christ's faithful are bound to preserve their communion with the Church at all times, even in their external actions.
§2 They are to carry out with great diligence their responsibilities towards both the universal Church and the particular Church to which by law they belong.

The clergy are members of Christ's faithful and are as obligated as everyone else to carry out their moral responsibilities. Likewise, the laity are the Church, and we are all bound to work toward unity, the clergy as well as the laity. Anyone who by their external actions consistently and deliberately works against this unity is violating this law.

Can. 212
§1 Christ's faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.
§2 Christ's faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.
§3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

Every member of the Church has a right and a duty to speak up against abuses of any sort.

We also have the right to share our concerns with others, as long as we do it without malice and with love for all, including for the abuser, in accordance with Christ's command to love our enemies (cf. Matt. 5:44). In our desire not to gossip, we tend to hide what needs to be brought out into the open for the good of all. More can be accomplished when we stand together against evil, but to do so, we need to speak up and communicate with others who are also concerned about injustices.

Can. 220
No one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys, or violate the right of every person to protect his or her privacy.
If someone's good reputation is harmed through verbal attack or prejudices, this law has been violated. A priest who cuts down or badmouths a parishioner or one of his staff, for example, is committing verbal abuse, which should not be dismissed as "a bad mood" and ignored, especially when this is a common occurrence.

Can. 221
§1 Christ's faithful may lawfully vindicate and defend the rights they enjoy in the Church, before the competent ecclesiastical forum in accordance with the law.

We have the right, by Canon Law, to speak up against any form of abuse and expect justice. The proper "ecclesiastical forum" is first the bishop, then if insufficient action to stop the abuse occurs, the national bishops' conference and the Vatican.

But first, according to Matt. 18:15-17, we speak directly to the abusive priest and lovingly, compassionately, humbly (remembering our own sinfulness) try to make him aware of the hurts he's causing. In imitation of Jesus, we invite him to "Go and sin no more." If that fails to make a difference, we bring in a couple of other parishioners who will also call for an end to the abusiveness, and if that fails, we bring in the bishop, who authoritatively represents the whole Church. If that also fails, Jesus says we are to treat the sinner as a Gentile or tax collector, which means as an outsider; it's time for the bishop to remove him from the parish and perhaps all priestly duties.

Can. 222
§1 Christ's faithful have the obligation to provide for the needs of the Church, so that the Church has available to it those things which are necessary for divine worship, for apostolic and charitable work and for the worthy support of its ministers.
§2 They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the Lord's precept, to help the poor from their own resources.
Let us not forget that "social justice" includes justice within the Church. Providing for the needs of the Church includes, when abuses occur, the need for safety, dignity, and fair treatment.

Can. 1740
When the ministry of any parish priest has for some reason become harmful or at least ineffective, even though this occurs without any serious fault on his part, he can be removed from the parish by the diocesan Bishop.

Removal from the parish does not need to depend upon proof that the priest intended to do harm. If it is clearly obvious that he is doing harm or even is simply "ineffective" in his calling to serve the people, this is grounds for removal. The parishioners have a right and a need to be shepherded by a holy, humble, Godly priest.
Can. 1741
The reasons for which a parish priest can lawfully be removed from his parish are principally:
1° a manner of acting which causes grave harm or disturbance to ecclesiastical communion;
2° ineptitude or permanent illness of mind or body, which makes the parish priest unequal to the task of fulfilling his duties satisfactorily;
3° the loss of the parish priest's good name among upright and serious-minded parishioners, or aversion to him, when it can be foreseen that these factors will not quickly come to an end
4° grave neglect or violation of parochial duties, which persists after a warning;
5° bad administration of temporal goods with grave harm to the Church, when no other remedy can be found to eliminate this harm.
Does this Canon Law describe your priest?
Can. 1747
While recourse against a decree of removal is pending, the Bishop cannot appoint a new parish priest, but is to make provision in the meantime by way of a parochial administrator.
If you have presented your case to the bishop, you have a right to expect the perpetrator to be removed from further opportunities to potentially continue his abuses, even before the case has been proven decisively.
Can. 1389
§1 A person who abuses ecclesiastical power or an office, is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or the omission, not excluding by deprivation of the office, unless a penalty for that abuse is already established by law or precept.
§2 A person who, through culpable negligence, unlawfully and with harm to another, performs or omits an act of ecclesiastical power or ministry or office, is to be punished with a just penalty.

This Canon Law covers the abuse of a title, such as pastor or parish administrator, or the abuse of authority.
Can. 84
A person who abuses a power given by a privilege deserves to be deprived of the privilege itself. Accordingly, after a warning which has been in vain, the Ordinary, if it was he who granted it, is to deprive the person of the privilege which he or she is gravely abusing; if the privilege has been granted by the Apostolic See, the Ordinary is obliged to make the matter known to it.
This, too, covers the abuse of authority. The "Ordinary" is the bishop. After the bishop warns the abusive priest to stop, if the abuses continue, the bishop is supposed to remove the priest from the position that has enabled the immoral behavior.

Can. 276
Clerics have a special obligation to seek holiness in their lives, because they are consecrated to God by a new title through the reception of orders, and are stewards of the mysteries of God in the service of His people.

This Canon Law spells out that clergy are expected, above everyone else, to live in a holy manner for the sake of revealing what God is like and because they are called to serve the people rather than their own passions or egotistical desires.
Can. 1369
A person is to be punished with a just penalty, who, at a public event or assembly, or in a published writing, or by otherwise using the means of social communication, utters blasphemy, or gravely harms public morals, or rails at or excites hatred of or contempt for religion or the Church.
This Canon Law forbids any public expression of blasphemy against God, any public example that leads others to sin by contradicting the Church's teachings on morality, and any behavior or activity that deliberately chases people away from the Church.

Can. 1399
Besides the cases prescribed in this or in other laws, the external violation of divine or canon law can be punished, and with a just penalty, only when the special gravity of the violation requires it and necessity demands that scandals be prevented or repaired.

What divine law, i.e., scriptural and moral, has been violated? All forms of abuse is a violation of divine law.

What can you do with this knowledge?

Download as a Word document or a webpage the Open Letter entitled Please Protect Us From All Forms Of Vocations Abuses; print it and ask victims of abuses by clergy to sign it, then send it to the appropriate authorities:

Your local bishop or archbishop
U.S. residents can obtain the address here.

The USCCB (for U.S. residents)
USCCB President
3211 4th Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20017-1194

The Papal Nuncio for your country
The Vatican's envoy to the U.S. is:
His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo
Apostolic Nunciature
3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington D.C. 20008

The Vatican
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic Palace

Email the Pope:

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