The Diocese of Paterson, NJ, is going to try four priests in ecclesiastical court since their cases exceed the statute of limitations of secular courts. This is an interesting development that bears watching. Here we have four priests who all assert their innocence. Meanwhile, the Church says there’s enough evidence for a trial. But since there are no church prisons, the worst punishment the four can receive is laicization, i.e. be stripped of their right to live the ministerial priesthood.
The case is the first that involves the revised Charter for the Protection of Children in which the diocese is required to ask the Vatican for an exemption to the Church’s statute of limitations. That’s right, the diocese is required to ask for an exemption. The statute is not a hard and fast rule designed to protect the Church from self-examination, but it’s a warning line that requires cases that cross it to receive special scrutiny.