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Evidential Dispensation - a case of 'You too"?

Today, the social media sites are frantically covering the announcement of the dismissal of Archbishop McCarrick from the clerical state. After years of alleged inactivity, this announcement on the eve of the imminent summit concerning the Church's response to child sexual abuse, presents as a remarkable coincidence.

It comes at a time when senior canonical officials in the CDF and the Signatura have, it is alleged, been singled out for suspicion. One source (La Croix International) headed its report with: "Senior Canon Lawyer at the Vatican revealed as sexual abuser". The report identifies Monisgnor Punderson who, it declares, has been included within a "preliminary list of offenders" published by the Diocese of Trenton. Elsewhere in the item, it is said that Monsignor Punderson is one 'credibly accused'. This prompts one cleric incardinated in the diocese of Trenton to volunteer the statement: "I knew him to be an abuser" He later adds: "I first heard rumours about Msgr Punderson as a seminarian 36 years ago..."

Within western political history, one is able to discern a pattern of conduct on the part of social commentators. It invariably involves the elevation and adulation of a particular candidate of importance; only to, in due course, to take delight in knocking the same candidate from the pedestal upon which society has in fact positioned him. The media articles to which I have referred, however, display a very different sport altogether. It is one which seemingly has few discernible rules. First: it requires the conflation of suspicion with guilt. This rule is particularly effective in that it removes all of the unnecessary impedimenti such as evidence, burden of proof, presumption of innocence and, most of all: the trial process itself. The second rule is no less important. It distils to a simple and universal principle: all judgments made shall be free from any judicial qualification or accountability. As will be immediately apparent, the rules of this particular sport are apt to generate more than a few injuries. If our supposed sport was marketed as a game for domestic use, it would undoubtedly be given a catchy and pithy name to ensure its place alongside, 'Twister', 'Operation' and 'Monopoly". The title: "You too!" seems a safe contender. It would come in a box with a series of questions; each of which the players are instructed to ignore. To introduce an element of chance, dice would be provided together with a board which included landing squares such as 'suspected' 'accused' 'go to jail' and 'no trial'. If sufficiently popular, a sequel or premium edition would be supplied with additional plastic player tokens (e.g. hyssop stick, jar of vinegar, nails, and sword) and a single piece of perforated cloth, to enable ready division.

One might legitimately expect that the completed board game "You Too" might be a best seller; a piece of marketing genius. The only possible downside is that it is insufficiently realistic and is unlikely to be able to compete with those who are able to enact these same roles, make the same judgments and determine the fate of others, in precisely the same manner, without the personal cost of purchasing the game (estimated at the broad equivalent of €30).

Beneath this hypothesis lies a simple truth: the universal law of the Church demands that judgment is capable of being declared in one instance only. Namely: where admissible evidence enables a duly appointed and competent individual to satisfy himself to the point of moral certainty of the matters alleged. These are not matters of personal preference but in fact irreducible minima if the condemnation which the judgment represents and the system in which it was promulgated are to enjoy confidence and be deserving of the term 'Just".

The evils of any form of abuse of power or sexual exploitation are too obvious to require statement. The role and ministry of the canon lawyer is to ensure that accusations are properly made and adjudication properly formulated. Neither is capable of relegation no matter how politically expedient or desirable it might be. Perhaps it is worth calling to mind the wisdom of St Paul VI taken from De Iustitia in Mundo:

"Whilst the church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognises that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes...Within the church, rights must be preserved."

Theodore McCarrick may have exhausted his procedural rights. On the information available, there is nothing to indicate Monsignor Punderson has yet been afforded an opportunity to exercise his. If he is 'credibly accused' it now falls to the Church, drawing upon the legal structures provided for within the Law, to ensure that those accusations are credibly tested and tried. Like the presumption of innocence, these rights cannot be dispensed with.

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