Canon Law: Enough!

Cuatrecasas-Martínez Case


Canon law has illuminated Western legal systems, almost as much as Roman law or French Napoleonic law. We owe him very important contributions in the field of good faith, custom, the principle of personality, international law, legal person and matrimonial law, just to mention a few aspects. Its prestige has been so great that it is even the subject of study in many law faculties of public universities around the world, not only in Catholic ones. And without canon law there are many civil institutions that are simply not understood. In some relevant areas, civil law is a distillation of canon law, a kind of secularized canon law.

It is surprising, therefore, that many Spanish bishops and canonists tolerate with their astonishing silence the crude manipulation to which canon law is being subjected in the labyrinthine Cuatrecasas-Martínez case, which has confronted Juan Cuatrecasas for more than ten painful years, a former student of the Gaztelueta school with his teacher José María Martínez Sanz for a complaint of sexual abuse.

At first, the Vatican, under the leadership of Cardinal Ladaria, closed the case and asked that Professor Martínez’s fame be restored. Then the Vatican reopened it, in view of Martínez having been sentenced by the Court of Bizkaia to eleven years in prison. Later, the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to two years and noted that the Biscayan Court had violated the principle of presumption of innocence, but did not fully enter into the evaluation of the evidence.

That’s when the canonical nonsense begins. Since the canonical decision of acquittal did not coincide with the civil sentence of conviction, the canonical case was reopened. And since the canonical legislation then in force had been modified, in this Cuatrecasas-Martínez case the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law was repealed, which requires not to convict anyone for a crime that did not exist at the time of the alleged acts. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is very clear in its tenor: “No one shall be condemned for acts or omissions that were not criminal at the time of their commission under national or international law.” Naturally, the canon law of the Catholic Church is not mentioned, nor are those of other religious confessions, but a legal system worthy of the name cannot ignore this article.

The second principle that had to be disapplied to reopen the case was the principle of equality before the law, which prohibits, among other things, legislating ad casum – that is, only against a specific accused – and not in a general way, for all people subject to the same jurisdiction. This prohibition is included in article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone is equal before the law and has, without distinction, the right to equal protection of the law.” This, without a doubt, also applies to canon law, as it is an order belonging to a civilized religious group.

Finally, the so-called non bis in idem principle was violated, which prohibits trying a person again for the same act. To cite another established international text, I will mention the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which includes this principle in its article 50. This article prohibits any accumulation of criminal procedures or sanctions for the same acts against the same person. What is judged is judged!

But the legal nonsense continued in this festival of canonical absurdity. On September 26, 2022, Mons. José Antonio Satué, as instructor delegate and president of the canonical tribunal that will judge Martínez by canonical administrative penal means, addressed the professor to inform him of the start of the procedure. Among other things, he told him, clearly contravening the principle of impartiality, the following: “Finally, as a brother in faith, I allow myself to recommend to you with all due respect that if, for whatever circumstances, you had defended your innocence in a manner uncertain, consider this procedure as an opportunity to recognize the truth and apologize to Mr. Juan Cuatrecasas Cuevas and his family.”

From there begins a process or, rather, an appearance of a process, in which the rights of hearing, contradiction and defense are violated as the investigated party has not been provided with the entire file or has not been allowed to take unequivocally relevant evidence. Thus, Professor Martínez has filed a lawsuit before the civil jurisdiction against Monsignor Satué, president of the canonical court, for violation of his right to honor. The lawsuit has been admitted for processing by judicial decree dated May 2, 2024.

And it is one thing that canonical jurisdiction must be separated from civil jurisdiction and another very different thing is that in Spain the most basic principles of law and procedural guarantees accepted by all civilized countries can be violated, with light and stenographers. , with the excuse that there is separation between Church and State. No, in this country, not everything goes. The Inquisition ended many years ago.

Canonical jurisdiction is respected and recognized in Spain by the current concordat between the State and the Holy See, but the abuse of canon law is as intolerable as the abuse of civil law. The most basic human rights are the same for everyone and apply in all places, including sacristies, seminaries and episcopal palaces. Enough of clerical impositions! Enough of canonical abuses! Enough of discrediting canon law! Enough of shameful silences that cry out for justice!

Rafael Domingo Oslé is a professor and jurist