Documents & Controversy


The Decree
The Vatican Press,
March 16, 1962



[This text is] to be diligently stored in the secret archives of the Curia as strictly confidential.
Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries.


1. The crime of solicitation takes place when a priest tempts a penitent, whoever that person is, either in the act of sacramental confession, whether before or immediately afterwards, whether on the occasion or the pretext of confession, whether even outside the times for confession in the confessional or [in a place] other than that [usually] designated for the hearing of confessions or [in a place] chosen for the simulated purpose of hearing a confession. [The object of this temptation] is to solicit or provoke [the penitent] toward impure and obscene matters, whether by words or signs or nods of the head, whether by touch or by writing whether then or after [the note has been read] or whether he has had with [that penitent] prohibited and improper speech or activity with reckless daring (Constitution Sacrum Poenitentiae, 1).

2. [The right or duty of addressing] this unspeakable crime in the first instance pertains to the Ordinaries of the place in whose territory the accused has residence (V. below, numbers 30 and 31), and this not to mention through proper law but also from a special delegation of the Apostolic See; It is enjoined upon these aforementioned persons to the fullest extent possible, [in addition to their being] gravely encumbered by their own consciences, that, after the occurrence of cases of this type, that they, as soon as possible, take care to introduce, discuss and terminate [these cases] with their proper tribunal. However, because of particular and serious reasons, according to the norm of Canon 247, 2, these cases can be directly deferred to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office or be so ordered. Yet [the right of] the accused respondents ++6++ remains intact in any instance of judgment to have recourse to the Holy Office. However, recourse thus interposed does not suspend, excluding the case of an appeal, the exercise of the jurisdiction of the judge who has already begun to accept the case; and he had therefore be able to pursue the judgment up to the definitive decision, unless it has been established that the Apostolic See has summoned the case to itself (Ofr. Canon 1569).

3. By the name of Ordinaries of the place are understood to be, each for his own territory, the residential bishop, abbot or prelate nullius, the administrator, any vicar or Prefect Apostolic, [and, in the absence of these aforementioned (dignitaries), those who succeed them in power in the meanwhile by the prescription of law or from approved constitutions (Canon 198, 1); [This norm does not apply], however, to the vicar general, except from his [having been] specially delegated.

4. The Ordinary of the place in these cases is the judge even for regulars [religious], even though exempt. It is indeed strictly prohibited for their superiors to interpose themselves in cases pertaining to the Holy Office (Canon 501, 2). However, having safeguarded the right of the Ordinary, there is nothing to prevent superiors themselves, if by chance they have discovered [one of their] subjects delinquent in the administration of the sacrament of Penance, from being able and having the obligation of being diligently watchful over those same persons, and, even having administered salutary penances, to admonish and correct, and, if the case demands it, to remove him from some ministry. They will also be able to transfer him to another [assignment], unless the Ordinary of the place has forbidden it because he has already accepted the denunciation and has begun the inquisition.

5. The Ordinary of the place can either supervise these cases himself or commit their acceptance to an ecclesiastic who is serious and of a mature age. But (they may not [commit such cases] on an habitual basis or for the entire group of these cases, but must delegate as often as needed (toties quoties) for cases taken singly and through writing, saving the prescription of Canon 1613, 1.

6. Although, as a rule, a single judge, by reason of its secrecy, is prescribed for cases of this type, it is not forbidden, however, for the Ordinary in the more difficult cases to approve one or two assessors and counselors, selected from the synodal judges (Canon 1575); or even to three judges, likewise chosen from the synodal judges, to hand over the case to the judges to be handled with the mandate of proceeding collegially according to the norm of Canon 1577.

7. The promoter of justice, the defender of the accused and the notary, priests who are fittingly serious, of mature age, of integrity, doctors in canon ++7++ law or otherwise skilled [in canon law] and worthy because of their zeal for justice (Canon 1589), and not found to be at any disadvantage toward the accused, which Canon 1613 treats, are to be nominated in writing by the Ordinary. The promoter of justice, however (who can be different from the promoter of justice of the Curia) [can be appointed] for the entire series of cases. The defender of the accused, however, and the notary are to be appointed each time for each case (toties quoties). Nor is the accused prohibited from proposing a defender seen as favorable to him (Canon 1655), who, however, is to be a priest and approved by the Ordinary.

8. Sometimes (this refers to his own location), the intervention [of the promoter of justice] is required, and, in the case where he has not been cited, unless by chance even if not cited he is still present [at the process], the Acts must be considered [totally] invalid. But, if, however, he has been legitimately cited and is not present at some [parts of the ] Acts, the Acts indeed are valid, but afterwards [those Acts] will be totally subject to his examination so that he is able to comment upon all of them either in words or in writing and to propose what he has judged to be necessary or opportune (Canon 1587).

9 It is fitting that the notary, on the other hand, be present at all the Acts under pain of nullity and to note down with his own hand or at least to affix his signature [to the aforesaid Acts] (Canon 1585, 1). Because of the special character of these procedures, however, it is necessary for the Ordinary to dispense from the presence of the notary, though because of a reasonable excuse in the acceptance, as will be noted in its own place, of the denunciations and also in the expenditure of the degrees of attention or care expected of a notary in a given situation, as they say, in pursuing and in examining the witnesses inducted [into the case].

10. Minor helpers are to be used for nothing unless it is absolutely necessary; and these are to be chosen, in so far as possible, from the priestly order; always, however, they are to be of proved faithfulness and mature without exception. But it must be noted that, if, when necessity demands it, they can be nominated to accept certain acts, even if they are non-subjects living in another territory or the Ordinary of that territory [can] be interrogated (Can. 1570, 2), observing, of course, all of the cautions treated as above and in Canon 1613.

11. Because, however, what is treated in these cases has to have a greater degree of care and observance so that those same matters be pursued in a most secretive way, and, after they have been defined and given over to execution, they are to be restrained by a perpetual silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1867, n. 14), each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way or admitted to knowledge of the matters because of their office, is to observe the strictest ++7++ secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office, in all matters and with all persons, under the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, ipso facto and without any declaration [of such a penalty] having been incurred and reserved to the sole person of the Supreme Pontiff, even to the exclusion of the Sacred Penitentiary, are bound to observe [this secrecy] inviolably. Indeed by this law the Ordinaries are bound ipso jure or by the force of their own proper duty. The other helpers from the power of their oath which they must always take before they undertake their duties. And these, then, are delegated, are interpolated, and are informed in their absence by means of the precept in the letters of delegation, interpellation, [or of] information, imposing upon them with express mention of the secret of the Holy Office and of the aforementioned censure.

12. The aforesaid oath, the formula for which is to be found in the appendix of this instruction (Form A), must be used (by those, obviously, who will use it habitually, once for all; by those, however, who are deputed only for some determined piece of business or case, as often as required (toties quoties), in the presence of the ordinary or his delegate done upon the Gospels of God (also by priests) and not otherwise and with the added promise of fulfilling faithfully their duty, to which, however, the excommunication, mentioned above, is not extended. There must be an avoidance, moreover, by those who are set over those involved in this cases, lest anyone be admitted to a knowledge of the matters from helpers, unless in some way a party or an office to be performed by that person necessarily requires a knowledge of these matters.

13. The oath of keeping the secret must be given in these cases also by the accusers or those denouncing [the priest] and the witnesses. To none of these, however, is there subjection to a censure, unless by chance toward these same persons some censure has been expressly threatened upon the person himself, for his accusation, his deposition or of his violation (Excussionis?) [of such] by act. The accused, however, should be most seriously warned that even he, with all [the others], especially when he observes the secret with his defender, is under the penalty of suspension a divinis in case of a transgression to be incurred ipso facto.

14. Finally, as for the publishing, the language, the confirmation, the custody of and the accidental nullity, in every way [these matters] must be observed which are prescribed by Canons 1642-43, 379-80-82 and 1680 respectively.




15. Since the crime of solicitation takes place in rather rare decisions, lest it remain occult and unpunished and always with inestimable detriment to souls, it was necessary for the one person, as for many persons, conscious of that [act of solicitation], namely, the solicited penitent, to be compelled to reveal it through a denunciation imposed by positive law. Therefore:

16. “According to the Apostolic Constitutions and especially of the Constitution of Benedict XIV Sacramentum Poenitentiae of June 1, 1941, the penitent must denounce the accused priest of the delict of solicitation in confession within a month to the Ordinary of the place or to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office; and the confessor must, burdened seriously in conscience, to warn the penitent of this duty.” (Canon 904).

17. Moreover, according to the mind of Canon 1935 anyone of the faithful can always denounce the delict of solicitation, of which he will have had a certain knowledge; also, the obligation of denunciation urges as often as the person is bound to it from the natural law itself because of the danger to faith or religion or other imminent public evil.

18. “The faithful, however, who knowingly have disregarded the obligation to denounce the person by whom he was solicited, against the prescription (related above) of Canon 904, within a month, falls into an excommunication reserved latae sententiae, not to be absolved unless after he has satisfied the obligation or has promised seriously that he would so” (Can. 2368, 2).

19. The duty of denunciation is a personal one and is to be fulfilled regularly by the person himself who has been solicited. But if he is prevented by the most serious difficulties from doing this, then either by letter or by another person favorable to him should approach the ordinary or the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office or the Sacred Penitentiary, revealing all the circumstances (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1967, n. 7).

20. Anonymous denunciations generally must be rejected. However, they can have supportive force or give the occasion for further investigations, if the particular circumstances of the matters involved render an accusation probable (Ofr. Can. 1942, 2).

21. The obligation of denunciation on the part of the solicited penitent does not cease because of a spontaneous confession by the soliciting confessor done by chance, nor because of his being transferred, promoted, condemned, or presumably reformed and other reasons of the same kind. It ceases, however, at his death.

22. Sometimes it happens that the confessor or another ecclesiastic man is deputed to receive some denunciation, together with an instruction concerning the acts to be assumed for a judicial reason. Then that person is to be expressly warned that he should tell everything to the Ordinary or to the person whom he deputed, keeping no example or trace of it to himself.

23. In receiving the denunciations, this order is to be regularly observed: First, an oath to tell the truth while touching the Holy Gospels is to be given to the person making the denunciation; he should be interrogated according to the formula (Formula E), circumspectly, so that he narrates each and every circumstance briefly, indeed, and decently, but clearly and distinctly, pertaining to the solicitations he has suffered. In no way, however is it to be extracted from him whether he had consented to the solicitation. Rather, he should be expressly advised that he is not bound to manifest his consent which he perhaps gave. The responses [in uninterrupted fashion], not only as to what pertains to the substance but even to the words themselves of the testimony (Canon 1778) should be consigned to writing. The entire instrument [of the testimony] should be read in a clear and distinct voice to the one denouncing [the priest], giving [the one denouncing the priest] the option of adding, suppressing, correcting, or varying [his testimony]. His signature is then to be exacted [from him], or, if he does not know how to write, or cannot, the sign of the cross. And with him still being present, there should be added the signature of the person receiving the testimony, and if he is present (Ofr. n. 9), of the notary. And before he is dismissed, there should be presented to him, as above, an oath of observing the secret, threatening him, if there is a need, with an excommunication reserved to the Ordinary or to the Holy See (Ofr. n. 13).

24. Even if, sometimes, for grave obstructing reasons always to be expressed in the acts, this ordinary practice cannot be observed, it is permitted that one or the other form from the prescribed forms, saving however the substance, ++11++ be omitted. Thus, if the oath cannot be taken upon the holy Gospels, it can be given with some notion and also with words only. If the instrument of denunciation cannot be put into writing in an uninterrupted fashion, it can be written down at a more opportune time and place by the interviewer (the recipient of the denunciation) and then confirmed and signed by the person who is denunciating in the presence of the one receiving the denunciation; if the instrument itself cannot be read to the denouncer, it can be given to him to read.

25. In more difficult cases, however, it is also permitted for the denunciation (the previous permission of the denunciator having been given, lest the sacramental seal seemingly be violated, and on a day convenient to each party and in the confessional itself, it is to be read or given to read, and is confirmed with an oath and with one’s proper signature or the sign of the cross (unless to do this is in every way impossible). Concerning all of these things, as has been said in the number above, an express mention must always be made in the Acts.

26. Still, if an entirely serious case also that is also clearly extraordinary urges, then the denunciation can also be done through a written account by the one denouncing, as long as, however, it is before the Ordinary of the place or his delegate and notary, if he is present (ofr. n. 9), and afterwards confirmed by an oath and signed. The same must be said concerning an informal denunciation, through a letter, for example, or given orally in an extrajudicial manner.

27. Any denunciation once accepted, the Ordinary is bound most gravely to communicate this as soon as possible to the promoter of justice who must declare in writing, whether the specific crime of solicitation in the first sense is present in the case or not, and whether the ordinary disagrees with this or not. Within ten days he must submit the matter to the Holy Office.

28. If, on the other hand, the Ordinary and the promoter of justice agree together, or in some way the promoter of justice does not make his recourse to the Holy Office, then the Ordinary, if he has decreed that the specific delict of solicitation was not present, should order the Acts to be put into the secret archives, or he should use his right and duty according to the nature and gravity of the things that have been denounced. If, however, he believed that they were present, then he should proceed to the inquisition (Ofr. Can. 1942. 1).



Chapter I - The Inquisition

29. When the knowledge concerning the crime of solicitation is known first through the denunciations, a special inquisition must be pursued “so that it may become clear whether and on what foundation the imputation rests” (Canon 1939, 1); and this by the fact or even more so, since a crime of this type, as has already been stated above, is usually done in secret, and direct testimonies concerning [solicitation], especially from the hurt party, can only rarely be obtained.

Once the inquisition is open, and if the denounced priest is a religious, the Ordinary can prevent him from being transferred before the conclusion of the process.

For the most part, there are three areas which such an inquisition must cover, and they are:

a) the past history of the denounced person;

b) the consistency of the denunciation;

c) other persons solicited by the same confessor or, however conscious of the crime, whether any of them, as not rarely happens, have been persuaded [to make the denunciation] by those denouncing.

30. Therefore, as to what pertains to the first letter (a), the Ordinary at the same time as he has accepted some denunciation of the crime of solicitation, if the one denounced, whether from the secular clergy or is a regular (ofr. n. 4), with residence in his territory, should try to find out from the archives whether other accusations against him are on record, even of a different type; and, if by chance he had previously been living in other territories, he should seek, even from the respective Ordinaries, and, if [he is a] religious, also from the regular superiors, whether they have anything which can aggravate the situation in any way. But he will accept these documents, referring to them in the Acts as accumulated together whether for a judgment, by reason of content [continentia] or association of causes [connexio] (ofr. Canon 1567), and thus all the matters will be brought forward together; ++13++ or for the establishment and consideration of an aggravating circumstance of recidivism according to the sense of Canon 2208.

31. If the whole matter concerns a denounced person who does not have residence in his territory, the Ordinary should transmit all the acts to the Ordinary of the one who has been denounced, or, if he does not know who this might be, [he will transmit all the acts] to the Supreme Holy Congregation of the Holy Office, reserving the right, in the meanwhile, to deny to the denounced priest the faculty of exercising the ecclesiastical ministries in his own diocese or of revoking them already by chance conceded to him, in the event that he approaches [the Ordinary for these faculties] or returns [to the diocese of the Ordinary].

32. As to what pertains to the second letter (b), the importance of each denunciation, of their qualities and of the circumstances must be weighed seriously and accurately so that it is evident how they themselves merit belief. It is not sufficient that [this be done] in any way whatsoever, but it is necessary that this become known by means of an established and a judicial form; this customarily is signified in the Tribunal of the Holy Office by the phrase “diligentias peragere” [to undertake all the required formalities].

33. In order to arrive at this purpose [of undertaking all the required formalities], as soon as the Ordinary shall have accepted any denunciation of the crime of solicitation, either personally or through a priest, he will summon, either personally or through a priest specially delegated to do so, two witnesses (he summons them separately and with appropriate circumspection) two witnesses, in so far as it is possible, from the ranks of the ecclesiastics. But it is far better, above any exception, to summon persons, who are familiar with both the one denounced and the one denouncing. These persons, with the notary present (ofr. n. 9), who is to put the interrogations and responses in writing, [are put] under the sanctity of an oath to tell the truth and to observe its secret nature, accompanied by the threat, if it seems necessary, of excommunication reserved to the Ordinary of the place or to the Holy See (ofr. n. 13). He will interrogate them (Formula G), concerning the life, morals and public reputation both of the one denounced and of the one denouncing. [They will be asked] whether they think that the one denouncing is worthy of credence; or whether, on the other hand, that person is capable of lying, of calumniating and of perjuring himself; and whether these persons know whether there has ever been any case of hatred, grudge or reason for enmity between the one denouncing and the denounced person.

34. If the denunciations are many in number, there is nothing to prevent the same [character] witnesses to be used for all or [to use different] witnesses, always being careful to have a double testimony as to the denounced and any denouncer.

35. If two witnesses cannot be found where each individual knows both the denounced and the denouncer, of if they cannot be interrogated at the same time without the danger of scandal ++14++ or without detriment to the good name concerning him, then arrangements to be made, so that two persons, by means of a divided [dimidiatae] [testimony], namely, interrogate two witnesses only about the denounced and another two only about the individual denouncers. In this case, however, it will be necessary to inquire elsewhere as to whether hatred, enmity or any other human disaffection against the denunciated [priest] was the case.

36. If not even the divided efforts cannot be pursued, or because capable witnesses cannot be found or because scandal or detriment has to be feared and rightly so, there is the possibility of substituting, cautiously, however, and prudently, [for the witnesses] with extrajudicial information about the denounced and the ones denouncing and their mutual personal relationships, with [all of this] put into writing; or [the same results can come about] also through supportive proofs which corroborate or weaken the accusation.

37. This [article], then, pertains to the third letter (c). If in the denunciations, which happens not rarely, some persons are influenced, perhaps also solicited, or others who can [simply] bring forward testimony concerning for some type of reason. All of these people must be examined severally (that is, separately) according to the judiciary formula [below.] (Formula I). First of all, they must be interrogated through general matters, and then, by degrees, as the matter evolves, arriving at the particulars, whether and how they had really been solicited or did they know or hear that other persons had been solicited (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1867, n. 9).

38. The greatest circumspection must be used in inviting these persons to this interview; for it will not always be opportune to bring them to a public place such as the chancery, especially if these are girls who are being subjected to the examination, married women, or those who are domestics. If those to be examined live either in monasteries, in hospitals or in pious homes for girls, then, the particular [persons] should be summoned with great diligence and on different days according to circumstances (Instruction of the Holy Office, July 20, 1890).

39. What was said above about the way to receive the denunciations, will also be applied, changing what has to be changed (mutatis mutandis), to the examination of persons who have been brought forward.

40. [If the examination of these persons, who corroborate each other by positive evidence, and because of which examinations there exists [therefore] either an arraigned priest or another person weighed down [with some accusations], then the denunciations that are true and strictly speaking denunciations and all the rest of the information about these [denunciations] are pursued regarding the qualification of the crime, regarding the resumption of the preceding acts and of the resumption of the efforts to be taken in accordance with what is prescribed above.

41. Once, however, all these matters are taken care of, the Ordinary is to communicate the Acts to the promoter of justice, who will see now whether all the procedures [actions] have been performed correctly or not. And, if he thinks that there is nothing against their acceptance, he should declare the inquisitorial process closed.

Chapter II : Canonical Directives and the Admonition of the Accused.

42. When the inquisitorial process has been closed, the Ordinary, having heard the promoter of justice, should proceed as follows, namely:

a) if it is evident that the denunciation totally lacks a foundation, he should order this to be declared in the Acts, and the documents of the accusation should be destroyed;

b) if the indications of the crime are vague and indeterminate or uncertain, he should order that the Acts be put into the archives, to be taken up again if something else happens in the future;

c) if, however, there are indications of a crime serious enough but not yet sufficient to institute an accusatorial process, as especially in the case where only one or two denunciations are had, where, indeed, [the regular process was followed] with diligence but were not corroborated by any or insufficient proofs (ofr. n. 36), or even many [proofs] but with uncertain procedures or procedures that are deficient, he should order that the accused be admonished according to the different [types of] cases (Formula M) the first or second [time?], paternally, seriously or most seriously according to the norm of Canon 2307, adding, if necessary, an exlicit threat of the trial process, should some other new accusation is laid upon [the accused]; the Acts, as above, should be kept in the archives and in meanwhile a check should be kept on the morals of the accused (Canon 1946, 2, n. 2):

d) If then certain or at last probable arguments to institute the accusation are present, he should order the accused to be cited and be subjected to the matters [which are prescribed for this trial].

43. The admonition, concerning which treatment is made in the preceding number with the letter (c), is always to be given secretly; it can be done, however, through a letter or by an intermediary, but in each case, it must be clear from some document to be kept in the secret archives of the Curia (ofr. Canon 2309, 1 and 5), adding the information about the manner in which the accused accepted it.

44. If, after the first admonition, other accusations against the same accused take place concerning solicitations, preceding the admonition itself, the Ordinary should see, according to his own choice and conscience, whether the first admonition should be considered sufficient or whether he should proceed to a new admonition or even to further measures (Ibidem, 6).

45. It is the right of the Promoter of Justice to appeal and to have recourse for a accused against the canonical prescriptions of this kind it to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office within ten days from the dissemination or intimation. In this case, the Acts of the case will have to be transmitted to the same Holy Congregation according to the prescription of Canon 1890.

46. These actions, however, even if put into effect, do not extinguish the penal action. And therefore, when other accusations by chance take place, a method will be followed concerning those matters which also have given cause to the said canonical instructions.

Chapter III - The decrees for the accused persons

47. When once there is a sufficiency to institute an accusation, as was said above in number 42 (d), argument

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