CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
sent from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
to Bishops of the entire Catholic Church
and other Ordinaries and Hierarchs having an interest
REGARDING THE MORE SERIOUS OFFENSES
reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
[Translation of the text was printed in Origins 31:32, January 24, 2001,
and posted at http://www.austindiocese.org/epistle/2002/graveoffenses.doc]
In order to fulfill the ecclesiastical law, which states in Article 52
of the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, "[The Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith] examines delicts against faith and more
grave delicts both against morals and committed in the celebration of
the sacraments which have been reported to it and, if necessary, proceeds
to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of common
or proper law,"(1) it was necessary first to define the method of
proceeding in delicts against the faith: This was accomplished through
the norms titled Agendi Ratio in Doctrinarum Examine, ratified and confirmed
by the supreme pontiff, Pope John Paul II, together with Articles 28-29
approved in forma specifica.(2)
At approximately the same time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, through an ad hoc commission established, devoted itself to a diligent
study of the canons on delicts both of the Code of Canon Law and the Code
of Canons of the Eastern Churches in order to determine "more grave
delicts both against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments"
and in order to make special procedural norms "to declare or impose
canonical sanctions," because the instruction Crimen Sollicitationis,
issued by the supreme sacred Congregation of the Holy Office on March
16, 1962,(3) in force until now, was to be reviewed when the new canonical
codes were promulgated.
Having carefully considered opinions and having made the appropriate consultations,
the work of the commission finally was completed. The fathers of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith examined the commission's work carefully
and submitted to the supreme pontiff conclusions on the determination
of more grave delicts and the manner of proceeding to declare or impose
sanctions, with the exclusive competence in this of the apostolic tribunal
of this congregation remaining firm. All these things, approved by the
supreme pontiff himself, were confirmed and promulgated by the apostolic
letter given motu proprio beginning with the words Sacramentorum sanctitatis
The more grave delicts both in the celebration of the sacraments and against
morals reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are:
-Delicts against the sanctity of the most august eucharistic sacrifice
and the sacraments, namely:
1. Taking or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose
or throwing them away.(4)
2. Attempting the liturgical action of the eucharistic sacrifice or simulating
3. Forbidden concelebration of the eucharistic sacrifice with ministers
of ecclesial communities which do not have apostolic succession and do
not recognize the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination.(6)
4. Consecrating for a sacrilegious purpose one matter without the other
in the eucharistic celebration or even both outside a eucharistic celebration.(7)
-Delicts against the sanctity of the sacrament of penance, namely:
1. Absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth Commandment of
2. Solicitation in the act, on the occasion or under the pretext of confession,
to sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue, if it is directed
to sin with the confessor himself.(9)
3. Direct violation of the sacramental seal.(10)
-A delict against morals, namely: the delict committed by a cleric against
the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor below the age of 18
Only these delicts, which are indicated above with their definition, are
reserved to the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith.
As often as an ordinary or hierarch has at least probable knowledge of
a reserved delict, after he has carried out the preliminary investigation
he is to indicate it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
which unless it calls the case to itself because of special circumstances
of things, after transmitting appropriate norms, orders the ordinary or
hierarch to proceed ahead through his own tribunal. The right of appealing
against a sentence of the first instance, whether on the part of the party
or the party's legal representative, or on the part of the promoter of
justice, solely remains valid only to the supreme tribunal of this congregation.
It must be noted that the criminal action on delicts reserved to the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith is extinguished by a prescription of 10
years.(11) The prescription runs according to the universal and common
law;(12) however, in the delict perpetrated with a minor by a cleric,
the prescription begins to run from the day when the minor has completed
the 18th year of age.
In tribunals established by ordinaries or hierarchs, the functions of
judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly
be performed for these cases only by priests. When the trial in the tribunal
is finished in any fashion, all the acts of the case are to be transmitted
ex officio as soon as possible to the Congregation for the Doctrine of
All tribunals of the Latin church and the Eastern Catholic churches are
bound to observe the canons on delicts and penalties, and also on the
penal process of both codes respectively, together with the special norms
which are transmitted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
for an individual case and which are to be executed entirely.
Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.
Through this letter, sent by mandate of the supreme pontiff to all the
bishops of the Catholic Church, to superiors general of clerical religious
institutes of pontifical right and clerical societies of apostolic life
of pontifical right, and to other interested ordinaries and hierarchs,
it is hoped not only that more grave delicts will be entirely avoided,
but especially that ordinaries and hierarchs have solicitous pastoral
care to look after the holiness of the clergy and the faithful even through
Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
May 18, 2001.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, SDB
[Notes added from the Latin text]
 Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Constitutio Apostolica Pastor bonus, De Romana
Curia, 28 iunii 1988, art. 52, in AAS 80 (1988) 874.
 Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine,
29 iunii 1997, in AAS 89 (1997) 830-835.
 Suprema Sacra Congregatio Sancti Officii, Instructio Crimen sollicitationis,
Ad omnes Patriarchas, Archiepiscopos, Episcopos aliosque locorum Ordinarios
"etiam Ritus Orientalis": De modo procedendi in causis sollicitationis,
16 martii 1962, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis MCMLXII.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1367; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium,
can. 1442. Cf. et Pontificium Consilium De Legum Textibus Interpretandis,
Responsio ad propositum dubium, 4 iunii 1999.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1378 § 2 n. 1 et 1379; Codex Canonum
Ecclesiarum Orientalium, can. 1443.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 908 et 1365; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum
Orientalium, can. 702 et 1440.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 927.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1378 § 1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum
Orientalium, can. 1457.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1387; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium,
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1388 § 1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum
Orientalium, can. 1456 § 1.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1362 § 1 n. 1; Codex Canonum
Ecclesiarum Orientalium, can. 1152 § 2 n. 1.
 Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1362 § 2; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum
Orientalium, can. 1152 § 3.