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SUMMARY: Reports of serious irregularities by prelates and inferior clerics must be investigated bv the superior. The accused must be given occasion to defend himself and, ii-found 'guilty, must be punished accordingly.
Text:. How and when a prelate ought to proceed in the inquiry and punishment of the excesses of subjects (that is, of clerics), is clearly deduced from the authority of the New and Old Testaments, from which the canonical decrees were afterward drawn, as we have long since clearly pointed out and now with the approval of the holy council confirm. For we read in the Gospel that the steward who was accused to his master of wasting his goods, heard him say: "How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship, for now thou canst be steward no longer" (Luke i6: 2). And in Genesis the Lord said: "I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry that is come to me" (Gen. i8: 2i). From these authorities it is clearly proved that not only when a subject (that is, a cleric of a lower rank) but also when a prelate is guilty of excesses and these should come to the ears of the superior through complaint and report, not indeed from spiteful and slanderous persons, but from those who are prudent and upright persons, and not only once but often, he must in the presence of the seniors of the church carefully inquire into the truth of such reports, so that if they prove to be true, the guilty party may be duly punished without the superior being both accuser and judge in the matter. But, while this is to be observed in regard to subjects, the observance must be stricter in reference to prelates, who are, as it were, a ,target for the arrow. Because they cannot please all, since by their very office they are bound not only to rebuke but also at times to loose and bind, they frequently incur the hatred of many and are subject to insidious attacks. The holy fathers, therefore, wisely decreed that accusations against prelates must be accepted with great reserve lest, the pillars being shattered, the edifice itself fall unless proper precaution be exercised by which recourse not only to false but also malicious incrimination is precluded. They wished so to protect prelates that on the one hand they might not be unjustly accused, and on the other hand that they might be on their guard, lest they should become haughtily delinquent; finding a suitable remedy for each disease in the provision that a criminal accusation which calls for a diminutio capitis, that is, degradation, is by no means to be accepted, nisi legitima praecedat inscriptio. But when anyone shall have been accused on account of his excesses, so that the reports and whisperings arising therefrom cannot any longer be ignored without scandal or tolerated without danger, then steps, inspired not by hatred but by charity, must be taken without scruple toward an inquiry and punishment of his excesses. If it is a question of a grave offense, though not one that calls for a degradatio ab ordine, the accused must be deprived absolutely of all administrative authority, which is in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel, namely, that the steward who cannot render a proper account of his office as steward be deprived of his stewardship. He about whom inquiry is to be made must be present, unless he absents himself through stubbornness; and the matter to be investigated must be made known to him, that he may have opportunity to defend himself. Not only the testimony of the witnesses but also their names must be made known to him, that he may be aware who testified against him and what was their testimony; and finally, legitimate exceptions and replications must be admitted, lest by the suppression of names and by the exclusion of exceptions the boldness of the defamer and the false witness be encouraged. The diligence of the prelate in correcting the excesses of his subjects ought to be in proportion to the blameworthiness of allowing the offense to go unpunished. Against such offenders, to say nothing of those who are guilty of notorious crimes, there can be a threefold course of procedure, namely, by accusation, by denunciation, and by inquiry, in all of which, however, proper precaution must be exercised lest perchance by undue haste grave detriment should result. The accusation must be preceded by the legitima inscriptio, denunciation by the caritativa admonitio, and the inquiry by the clamosa insinuatio (diffamatio); such moderation to be always used that the forma sententiae be governed by the forma judicii. The foregoing, however, does not apply to regular clerics, who, when a reason exists, can be removed from their charges more easily and expeditiously.
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