Clerics charged with serious offences will have half their salary docked or will be completely removed from the payroll if they are convicted, according to a provision in a bill submitted by the Ministry of Education, which started being debated in Parliament on Thursday.
This is the first time that a system of sanctions is introduced for members of the clergy who are prosecuted for felonies or specific offenses described in the law or are irrevocably convicted. Until now, a decision to withhold a priest’s salary could only be taken by the Church’s judicial bodies.
Among the offenses described in the bill are theft, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, forgery, bribery, breach of duty, defamation, any crime against sexual freedom or crime of economic exploitation of sexual life, physical harm to a fetus or newborn, offenses related domestic violence, abduction of minors, illegal violence, vigilantism, threats, and disruption of religious gatherings.
If the indicted cleric is acquitted by an irrevocable court decision, they will be paid any amount withheld with interest, upon their request. However, only the Church can remove priests from their posts while they are being investigated, as the law does not allow the State to intervene in the internal functioning of religious communities.
The Education Ministry describes this provision as a “turning point” in the history of the clergy salaries framework. It said the crimes included “provoke such a social disapproval that they offend, tarnish the special moral value that the average person demands from a religious official, not only the religion to which he belongs, but also in general from religious ministers of any religion.”
”This is a crucial reform which strengthens social cohesion, consolidates the distinct roles of State and Church,” it added.
According to the bill, the prosecutor conducting the criminal investigation will have to inform the relevant Diocese and the Directorate of Religious Administration of the Department of Education and Religious Affairs to make the salary cut. Also, the secretariat of the criminal court that issues the irrevocable court decision will have to inform the same bodies and authorities, to remove the convicted cleric from the payroll.