Bishop of the Catholic Church of Puerto Rico (Parish of Arecibo) Daniel Fernández Torres and his Vicar General Luis Rivera Colón v. Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico, Honorable Cesar Miranda
Supreme Court of Puerto Rico
Case Number: CT-2014-4;
2014 TSPR 86
14 July 2014
The Bishop and Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arecibo in Puerto Rico appealed the orders of the lower courts to provide information on sexual abuse by priests to the Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico.
Following reports from victims of abuse, the Bishop had ordered the Vicar General to pursue several internal investigations, resulting in the dismissal of six priests. The Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico then issued subpoenas to compel the Bishop and Vicar General to provide: (i) the names of the victims and priests and (ii) the files from the internal investigations carried out over the last 10 years. The Bishop and Vicar General opposed this request in a legal action filed with the court of first instance, which declared the subpoenas constitutional and ordered the Bishop and Vicar General to furnish the requested information, except to the extent obtained under the sacrament of confession.
Issue and Resolution:
Right to privacy, freedom of religion and confessional privilege. The Supreme Court returned the case to the court of first instance, ordering that the names of the child victims should be conveyed under strict confidentiality to the Public Prosecutor, while the names of the adult victims should only be conveyed if the lower court finds that the communications were not privileged. The Supreme Court held that the files of the internal investigation should not be conveyed to the Public Prosecutor.
The Supreme Court explained that the State is entitled to investigate crimes but must take into consideration other constitutional rights, namely the right to privacy and religious freedom. With regards to the rights of the alleged victims who were minors, the law of the Church coincided with that of the state: the Church must inform the authorities of cases of sexual abuse. However, regarding the adult victims, the Church would only be required to comply with the information request if protection under the sacrament of confession could not be proven and if the information could not be otherwise obtained, in which case the Church would be required to contact the alleged victims to inform them that they had the right to oppose the continuance of the criminal investigations.
Link to Full Judgment:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.