Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, August 10, 2007

A canonical response to a murderous priest

The story out of Mexico (English version, Spanish version) that a priest has been sentenced to 55 years in prison for the murder of his own son (committed to prevent detection of the priest's sexual misconduct and his possible expulsion from the clerical state) leaves one pretty much speechless. In the 18 months since this story broke, it appears that the Mexican hierarchy, appalled by the discovery, cooperated with state prosecutors pursuing the matter in secular court. That's all to the good, of course; but I think it important that the canonical consequences for such loathsome conduct be pursued as well.

There are arguments under the current criminal law of the Church (Book VI of the 1983 Code) whereby a priest who, in a one-time act, sires a child with a consenting adult, could escape dismissal from the clerical state for the deed, notwithstanding the other penalties that might be imposed on him (a careful reading of CIC 18 and 1394-1395 demonstrates this). I don't know whether the facts in this case would have allowed such an argument to go forward; my hunch is, the odds are against it.

But in murdering the progeny of his misconduct, a priest renders any such arguments moot and makes his expulsion from ordained ministry a simple matter.

Canon 1397 states that anyone who commits homicide can be punished in accord with Canon 1336, a norm that in turn authorizes "dismissal from the clerical state" as a penalty for certain offenses. As if that weren't sufficient basis for dismissing a homicidal priest from the clerical state, a canonical judge is permitted to augment penalties on those who have been "established in some dignity" (CIC 1326).

Priesthood is surely such a dignity. It should be canonically vindicated against such dastardly conduct.