Vatican Archives Register 6, fol. 72r (Innocent III's Sixth Pontifical Year)

Fourth Lateran Council c.8

[4 Comp. 5.1.4(X 5.1.24)]

"Qualiter et quando debeat praelatus procedere ad inquirendum et puniendum subditorum excessus, ex auctoritatibus veteris et novi testamenti colligitur evidenter, ex quibus postea processerunt canonicae sanctiones," sicut olim aperte distinximus, et nunc sacri approbatione concilii confirmamus.

"How and in what way a prelate ought to proceed to investigate and punish the offences of his subjects may be clearly ascertained from the authorities of the new and old Testament, from which subsequent sanctions in canon law derive", as we said distinctly some time ago and now confirm with the approval of this holy council.

Legitur enim in evangelio, quod villicus ille, qui diffamatus erat apud dominum suum, quasi dissipasset bona ipsius, audivit ab illo : "Quid hoc audio de te? Redde rationem villicationis tuae, iam enim non poteris amplius villicare [Luke 16:1]." Et in Genesi Dominus ait : "Descendam et videbo, utrum clamorem, qui venit ad me, opere compleverint [Genesis 18:21]."

For we read in the Gospel that the steward who was denounced to his lord for wasting his goods heard him say: "What is this that I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be my steward." And in Genesis the Lord says: "I will go down and see whether they have  done the deeds that I have heard from many sources."

Ex quibus auctoritatibus manifeste probatur, quod non solum cum subditus, verum etiam cum praelatus excedit, si per clamorem et famam ad aures superioris pervenerit, non quidem a malevolis et maledicis, sed a providis et honestis, nec semel tantum, sed saepe, quod clamor innuit et diffamatio manifestat, debet coram ecclesiae senioribus veritatem diligentius perscrutari, ut, si rei poposcerit qualitas, canonica districtio culpam feriat delinquentis, non tanquam idem sit accusator et iudex sed quasi denunciante fama vel deferente clamore officii sui debitum exsequatur.

From these authorities it is clearly shown that not only when a subject has committed some excess but also when a prelate has done so, that the matter reaches the ears of the superior through complaints and the judgments of many, not from enemies and slanderers, but from prudent and honest persons, not once only, but often.  Because the complaints suggest and slanders make manifest, the superior ought to search for the truth before the elders of the church.  If the quality of the evidence would demand it, canonical jurisdiction should be exercised over the accused, not as if the prelate were the accuser and the judge but as if the judgments of many denounce the accused and the complaints making him obligated to exercise his duties.

 Licet autem hoc sit observandum in subditis, diligentius tamen est observandum in praelatis, qui quasi signum sunt positi ad sagittam. Et quia non possunt omnibus complacere, cum ex officio suo teneantur non solum arguere, sed etiam increpare, quin etiam interdum suspendere, nonnunquam vero ligare ---  frequenter odium multorum incurrunt et insidias patiuntur. Et ideo sancti Patres provide statuerunt, ut accusatio praelatorum non facile admittatur, ne concussis columnis corruat aedificium, nisi diligens adhibeatur cautela, per quam non solum falsae, sed etiam malignae criminationi ianua praecludatur. Verum ita voluerunt providere praelatis, ne criminarentur iniuste, ut tamen caverent, ne delinquerent insolenter, contra morbum utrumque invenientes medicinam congruam, videlicet ut criminalis accusatio, quae ad diminutionem capitis, id est degradationem, intenditur, nisi legitima praecedat inscriptio, nullatenus admittatur.

While this should be observed in the case of subjects all the more carefully should it be observed in the case of prelates who are set as a mark for the arrow[Lament. 3:12].  Prelates cannot please everyone since they are bound by their office not only to convince but also to rebuke and sometimes even to suspend and to bind.    Thus they frequently incur the hatred of many people and risk ambushes.  Therefore the holy fathers have wisely decreed that accusations against prelates should not be admitted readily without careful provision being taken to prevent false and malicious accusations lest the collapse of columns would destroy that building [Jg 16:30].  They wished to ensure that prelates are not accused unjustly and yet that at the same time they take care not to sin in an arrogant manner, finding a suitable medicine for each disease:  namely a criminal accusation that entails loss of status, that is to say degradation, shall in no wise be allowed unless it is preceded by an admonition.

Sed cum super excessibus suis quisquam fuerit infamatus, ita ut iam clamor ascendat, qui diutius sine scandalo dissimulari non possit vel sine periculo tolerari : absque dubitationis scrupulo ad inquirendum et puniendum eius excessus, non ex odii fomite, sed caritatis procedatur affectu, quatenus, si fuerit gravis excessus, etsi non degradetur ab ordine, ab administratione tamen amoveatur omnino, quod est secundum sententiam evangelicam a villicatione villicum amoveri, qui non potest villicationis suae dignam reddere rationem.

However when someone's offenses are so notorious  that a complaint can longer be ignored without scandal or tolerated without danger, then without the slightest hesitation, let action be taken in inquire into and punish his offenses, not out of hate but rather out of charity.  If the offense is grave, even though not involving his degradation, let him be removed from all administration in accordance with the saying of the gospel that the steward is to be removed from his stewardship if he cannot give a proper account of it [Luke 16:1].

Debet igitur esse praesens is, contra quem facienda sit inquisitio, nisi se per contumaciam absentaverit, et exponenda sunt ei illa capitula, de quibus fuerit inquirendum, ut facultatem habeat defendendi se ipsum. Et non solum dicta, sed etiam nomina ipsa testium sunt ei, ut quid et a quo sit dictum appareat, publicanda, nec non exceptiones et replicationes legitimae admittendae, ne per suppressionem nominum infamandi, per exceptionum vero exclusionem deponendi falsum audacia praebeatur.

The person about whom the inquiry is being made ought to be present, unless he absents himself contumaciously.  The list of accusations must be explained to him so that he has the ability to defend himself.  The testimony and the names of witnesses must be presented so that what has been said and by whom will be apparent.  Legitimate exceptions of the defendant and contrary exceptions of the plaintiffs must be heard.  The suppression of the names of witnesses leads to false charges and the exclusion of exceptions leads to false depositions.

Ad corrigendos itaque subditorum excessus tanto diligentius debet praelatus assurgere, quanto damnabilius eorum offensas desereret incorrectas. Contra quos, ut de notoriis excessibus taceatur, etsi tribus modis possit procedi, per accusationem videlicet, denunciationem et inquisitionem ipsorum: ut tamen in omnibus diligens adhibeatur cautela, ne forte per leve compendium ad grave dispendium veniatur sicut accusationem legitima debet praecedere inscriptio, sic et denunciationem caritativa monitio, et inquisitionem clamosa insinuatio praevenire, illo semper adhibito moderamine, ut iuxta formam iudicii sententiae quoque forma dictetur. Hunc tamen ordinem circa regulares personas non credimus usquequaque servandum, quae, cum causa requirit, facilius et liberius a suis possunt administrationibus amoveri.

A prelate should act more diligently in correcting the offenses of his subjects in proportion as he would be worthy of condemnation were he to leave them uncorrected.  Notorious cases aside, he may proceed against them in three ways: namely by accusation, denunciation, and investigation..  Let him take care, nevertheless, to handle all cases justly so that serious loss is not made for the sake of a small gain. Consequently a admonition should precede an accusation, a caring warning should precede a denunciation, and  public publication of the charges should precede an investigation.  The rule should always be adhered to that the judgment shall conform to the rules of judicial procedure.  We do not think, however, that canons regular fall under these rules since they can be removed by their superiors when there is cause to do so.

Translation based on Norman P. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington, D.C. 1990) 1.237-239