Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

First thoughts on the Manel Pousa case

Based on the news reports I’ve seen (here and here), the case of Spanish priest Manel Pousa illustrates why it is so hard to parody religious nuttiness these days. As soon as one posits, say, a hypothetical priest who—I dunno, let’s just make something up—pays for abortions, and blesses gay unions, and supports women’s ‘ordinations’, and holds for optional celibacy while he hangs out with his girlfriend and hobnobbs with the region’s rich and famous, then boom!, you find out that an actual priest is alleged to fit that description. So it’s back to the imagination drawing boards.

Anyway, it seems the Pousa case is finally getting some official ecclesiastical attention. The delay, I suspect, was not a dearth of canonical expertise. Not in Spain, it wasn't. Spain is chock full of good canonists. But, I fear, that very delay might have complicated the case, or at least parts of it.

The main concern is
Canon 1362, which establishes a quite short statute of limitations for most ecclesiastical delicts, namely, just three years. A few offenses fall under a five-year period of prescription (e.g., abortion and cooperation therein), and a very few crimes are subject to a ten-year-or-more period (but that law does not seem applicable to these facts). Given the strict interpretation that binds Church officials in penal law matters (see, e.g., Canon 18 and Regula iuris n. 49 in Sexto), canoncial defenses based on statutes of limitation are pretty easy to offer and pretty hard to defeat.

On the other hand, some of Pousa’s antics seem to be of chronic duration, and in certain cases the very duration of one’s activities can have the effect of preserving the Church’s authority over older offenses whose prosecution might otherwise have been barred. But again, Spain has plenty of canon lawyers who know this.

The rest of us will have to wait and see.

PS: Did anyone else find odd the Barcelonan archdiocesan statement that “these procedures required by canonical norms do not impede the recognition of the social work that this priest has been carrying out for many years at the service of the most needy groups of our society”? I think we should be very clear: Pousa is suspected of, among other things, paying a killer to snuff the life of one or more pre-born babies! How on earth would his care of poor people even be relevant to, let alone a mitigation for, such horror? + + +

Updated 19 April 2011: There is not much to be said canonically about the Padre Manuel Pousa case. Public information on the matter is scarce, and idle speculation on it is pretty pointless. The one press report I saw said that Pousa’s involvement in the abortion did not amount to “necessary cooperation”, which suggests that the case was being analyzed in terms of Canon 1329, as it should have been. But there were probably several obstacles to getting a conviction on these facts. I always had doubts that the case would go very far.

Of course, Pousa’s antics (if that is not too casual a way to describe some of Pousa’s behaviors) are bound to catch up with him sooner or later. It just wasn’t today.