In a new show of “zero tolerance” towards clergy sex abuse of children, the Vatican has lifted the statute of limitations on the crimes of a Spanish priest and sentenced him to live the rest of his life in reclusion.

Driving the news

The provincial of the Society of Jesus in Spain, Antonio España, announced Monday the results of the canonical trial of the Jesuit Pere Sala.

España said Sala had been convicted in Church law of abusing at least two minors when he was a teacher at the Sant Ignasi school in Sarrià, in Barcelona, in the 1980s.

For those crimes, 95-year-old Sala has been sentenced to live the rest of his life in reclusion in a Church residence in Sant Cugat del Vallés.


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Go deeper

Sala has also been prohibited from celebrating the sacraments and otherwise exercising his priestly ministry in any way in public.

The Jesuit has also been forbidden from having contact with children, giving interviews to the media, contacting his victims and absenting himself from the community at Sant Cugat without the express permission of his superior.

The measures imposed on Sala will be revised every three years and, in case of noncompliance, the religious will be both expelled from the priesthood and from the Jesuits.

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Why it matters

Church law sets out that the time the sex abuse crimes of clergy against minors can be judged extends to twenty years beyond the 18th birthday of the victim(s).

In the case of Sala, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican – which judged the priest after having received complaints against him from the Spanish Jesuits – decided to lift this statute of limitations.

Vatican sources said the decision to extend the period of time during which legal action could be taken against Sala was an historic one.

It’s further proof that Pope Francis’ determination to rid the Church of clergy sex abuse is finally paying off.

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For the record

As well as a lifetime of reclusion and a prohibition on public ministry, the Vatican also imposed on the priest Sala the obligation that he write his victims a letter of apology.

That letter was published Monday by Spanish paper El Periódico.

In the letter, Sala wrote: “in this final stretch of my life, with more than ninety years at my back and with so many accumulated memories, what I want most is to end my days in peace with myself and with all the people with whom I have associated and continue to associate”.

“I know that, before I can have that, I owe you an apology even after all this time has passed since I met you”, Sala told his victims.

The priest wrote to the survivors of his abuse that he apologised “for the moments when my behaviour with you was improper for a Jesuit and an educator, and for what could have negatively affected your lives”.

“I’m really sorry”, Sala added, signing off with “Best wishes”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.