Crimen Sollicitationis

On Soliciting for Sex within the Catholic Church

Crimen Sollicitationis (Latin for crime of soliciting) is a document that was issued by the Vatican in 1962 to all Catholic Bishops.

The document is essentially a set of procedural norms for processing cases of accusations against priests for soliciting sex while in the act of sacramental confession.

In other words, using their status, power and authority to obtain sex whilst offering confession to one of their parishioners. The document doesn’t just cover acts perpetrated via soliciting in the confessional, it also covers acts, which it deems “the worst crime”, as follows:

To have the worst crime, for the penal effects, one must do the equivalent of the following: any obscene, external act, gravely sinful, perpetrated in any way by a cleric or attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals (bestiality).

One has to wonder what was happening in the Catholic church that the Vatican had to release a special document covering solicitation, pedophilia and bestiality! (I think a WTF! is appropriate here)

The Catholic Crimen Sollicitationis Instruction was issued in the strictest confidentiality and urged the utmost secrecy in dealing with any sexual abuse claims. (see below)

As Doyle (see References) points out, these sorts of cases had been dealt with by the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The fact that an additional document was released in 1962 doesn’t necessarily

indicate a rise in cases of clergy sex crimes but could indicate a heightened concern over the incidence of clergy crimes

The document, or Instruction to give it the more accurate term, was purportedly also aimed at providing a greater degree of confidentiality than that covered under the existing Code of Canon Law.

The Crimen Sollicitationis instruction was released to Bishops world wide in 1962 but was supposedly not very widely known of. The document appears to have only come to the general publics attention sometime between 2001 and 2003 (as much as I tried, I couldn’t find an exact date when this document came into the media and the civil legal system’s general knowledge, but in 2003 it was definitely known about).

The document has been used in evidence by sexual abuse victims (of the catholic clergy) to show that, despite some protestations, the church knew that sexual abuse was occurring before 1984. Such that they deemed it necessary to issue an additional instruction in 1962 specifically covering solicitation and sexual abuse.


The secrecy could be seen as a way to cover up the sexual abuse, or as a method to protect the victims and accused until guilt is established.  I can see a need for a certain amount of secrecy in a sexual abuse claim. Victims, and witnesses, are more likely to come forward in the first instance and accused are more likely to allow an investigation if they know their name is to be withheld if they are innocent. I’m sure this level of secrecy is not common to the Catholic church alone.

However, it can be argued that the overriding level of secrecy within the church leads to a culture of secrecy such that no one ever admits to anything. Even though the Crimen Sollicitationis doesn’t expressly prevent a victim, witness or accused taking direct civil legal action, it does assist the church in preventing abuse cases being discussed outside the church’s legal system. (luckily it appears that the lack of general knowledge of the instruction actually enabled some victims to come forward who otherwise may not of)

As Doyle says:

The almost paranoid insistence on secrecy throughout the document is probably related to two issues: the first is the scandal that would arise were the public to hear stories of priests committing such terrible crimes. The second reason is the protection of the inviolability of the sacrament of penance.

Neither of which excuse sound very good to me. They both seem to be more worried about protecting the Catholic Church’s reputation rather than supporting the victims.

To be fair, Doyle also points out that:

It seems to be stretching a bit too far to conclude that this process is a substitute for civil law action or is an attempt to coddle or hide clergy who perpetrate sex crimes.

Even though, in many instances, the Catholic church did just that.

One final word from Doyle’s article

… the obsession with secrecy through the years has been instrumental in preventing both justice and compassionate care for victims. It has enabled the widespread spirit of denial among clergy, hierarchy and laity. The secrecy has been justified to avoid scandal when in fact it has enabled even more scandal.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and this comes from a Catholic Reverend and canon lawyer! Reverend Doyle received a Priest of Integrity Award for his work in addressing sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy. The award also recognised his attempt to alert bishops within the Catholic Church that sexual abuse should be reported and warning of the effects on victims.


The ultimate penalty for anyone being convicted (within the church legal system) of the crimes within the document is excommunication. Catholic officials were threatened with automatic excommunication if they even discussed abuse cases outside the church’s legal system. Even victims and witnesses were threatened with excommunication if they broke the oath of secrecy they made at the time of making a complaint. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Excommunication is worse than death for some/most Catholics. So what incentive is there for any church official or witness to ‘dob in a mate’ they suspect of abuses?

Richard Sipe, a former Catholic priest and national expert on the church sex abuse scandal, said this about the document, “It’s a straight jacket, a religious straight jacket.” He calls the 1962 Vatican document a blueprint for cover-up and says it’s a document that demands even victims remain silent.


I don’t buy in to the whole conspiracy theory that the Crimen Sollicitationis document was specifically designed to systematically cover up sexual abuses by the Catholic clergy. As Doyle puts it, it’s more: “a policy of secrecy rather than a conspiracy of cover up“. But it certainly demonstrates that the Catholic church was aware of these sexual abuses, and the mantle of secrecy would have made it more difficult for people to discuss the issue. The document isn’t the cause of clergy sexual abuse, but surely reflects the underlying culture of secrecy within the Catholic Church, which possibly led to these abuses continuing for so many years.


Claims the document was no longer in force after the release of the 1983 Code of Canon Law have shown to be false when in 2001, the then Cardinal, Ratzinger sent a letter to Bishops invoking the 1962 document. The fact was also brought out in a court case in 2005:

Msgr. Brian Ferme, … stated in an affidavit submitted in a California civil case in 2005 that “technically the 1962 Instruction was in force until the publication of the 2001 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”


So what piqued my interest in this now redundant document? I came across this whilst watching an episode of Silent Witness (ABC Fridays at 8:30pm) titled “Suffer the Children” in which several men are murdered and a priest commits suicide (the other part of this show dealt with young boys seemingly being ritually sacrificed). The head of the Catholic boys boarding school (I bet those four words conjure up horrible memories for some?) asks the pathologist if they had ever heard of Crimen Sollicitationis, he then goes on to explain it. The gist of the document is that the worst crimes were to be dealt with in secrecy lest the perpetrators and victims become excommunicated. Not to give too much away about the show, but the murders and suicide were linked to the priest using Crimen Sollicitationis as part of the reason for not reporting a case of sexual abuse.

So I got in the net and started researching, I was a little surprised by what I found.

Old News to Some

I understand that this story may be old news to some, a lot of the news reports I read date back to 2003. However, as I’d never heard of it, and it was featured recently on a TV show, I thought others may also not know, and be interested. Also the recent visit of the Pope to America and the impending visit to Australia has again raised the issue of sexual abuse within the church. However, to-date, most media are either unaware of this document or are ‘too polite’ to mention it.

PS. I hope the Pope has the fortitude to formerly apologise to all the Australian victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse when he visits here for Catholic WYD.



I’d like to thank Jay at Renegade Catholic for access to documents referenced in this article, namely:

Observations by Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.
November 1, 2006

The Decree 
The Vatican Press, 
March 16, 1962
(edited translation)

Further information was obtained from the Wiki entry Crimen sollicitationis and reports in the National Catholic Reporter and FAIR on-line, as follows:

Explaining Crimen Sollicitationis
Many bishops unaware obscure missive was in their archives
Pope Gets Pass on Church Abuse History
Catholic League’s Inaccurate Critique of FAIR

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Filed under Catholic, clergy, crimen sollicitationis, pope, religion, sexual abuse, vatican

8 responses to “Crimen Sollicitationis

  1. Great work Oz. I appreciate the time you have spent on it. I was certainly unaware of its existence.

  2. Pingback: Earthman’s Notebook » Blog Archive » The 94th Carnival of the Godless!

  3. It may be important, when looking at the purpose of Crim.Sol., to put it in context. 1962 was also the year of Vatican II (a liberal move), and the Sixties generally was an era of increasing assertion of individual rights and freedoms, and general cynicism about authority figures. With that in mind, reaffirming (and strengthening) the church’s command of secrecy could have been partially in awareness that more people might feel free to speak out if not deterred somehow.

    It’s also worth noting that defrocking abusers happens rarely, and to my knowledge excommunication never has, despite many confirmed offenders who qualify for it. Perceived heresy and/or rebellion against church authority is dealt with far more severely than clergy sexual abuse.

  4. I have a Google Alert set-up for the search terms “Crimen sollicitationis,” and when I saw that there was a blog entry by someone calling themselves “Oz Atheist” I assumed that it would be another biased critic using whatever they could find to club an ideological foe. But after having read your post, I have to say that you have written a reasonable summary of the controversy.

    I’ve written on the subject before on my own blog, and there are areas where we agree and some where we disagree. The relevant post of mine can be found here: Crimen sollicitationis.

    I’ll write a few comments on your post, just to give a little feedback and perhaps clarify my own understanding.

    The first is the issue of bestiality. I know it looks unusual to have such a thing mentioned in a set of norms dealing with (mostly) abuses of the confessional, but this is no more an indication that such activities were common than the mention of similar prohibitions in the criminal laws of most Australian states is an indication that the citizens of those states are sexually involved with animals. For example, section 59 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) makes bestiality a crime. I don’t think that that demonstrates that the incidence of bestiality is high or even existent at all in Victoria.

    The second thing I want to mention is Thomas Doyle. It’s hard to find reliable expert opinion on this issue because one would expect liberal Catholic scholars to want to maximise the damage to the hierarchy as they desire a more liberal, populist and, less centralised Roman Catholic Church. Conservative Catholic scholars want the opposite so they would seek to minimise the damage to the hierarchy as they seek to maintain a centralised, monarchical Roman Catholic Church. Doyle is about as liberal as they come. He also has a bad habit of directly contradicting himself, having once said that Crimen was an attempt to cover-up abuse, only to say the exact opposite when quoted soon after. He seems torn between his desire to be an honest scholar and his desire to radically alter the Church, and this sometimes shows up in different messages to different audiences. I’ve written about Doyle here: Thomas Doyle.

    The third comment I would like to make is that is it very difficult to find honest and unbiased reporting on the controversy. The pro-Catholic reporters (and lobbyists) put a pro-Catholic spin on it and the anti-Catholic reporters (and lobbyists) do the opposite. Probably the best, most objective piece of journalism on the subject can be found by Andrew Walsh of ‘Religion in the News’: Instructions From the Vatican.

    As for the origin of the dispute, I’ve written on the origin of the media controversy surrounding Crimen sollicitationis. It started in 2002 when a lawyer, Daniel Shea, found a mention of Crimen in a footnote to an article published by the Vatican. You can read the rest on my links.

    Anyway, contact me is you want to discuss the issue further. I’m no expert, just an interested amateur like yourself. (I used to be a Catholic but no longer believe in God/god. I generally describe myself as an agnostic.)

  5. Dammit, looks like I forgot to ‘close’ an italic markup. Doh.

  6. @ generic description, Thanks for the link, interesting video.

  7. Pingback: Gilmore says remove Bishops from public roles - Page 13 -

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