Denunciation (Lat. denunciare) is making known the crime of another to one who is his superior, The employment of denunciation has its origin in the Scriptures. Christ ordains (Matt., xviii, 15-17), “If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican”. As the object of this denunciation was the bettering of one’s neighbor, by admonition, not vindictive punishment, it has received the name of charitable or evangelical denunciation. The term paternal correction is also applied to it.
After the Church had obtained an official status before the world, it built up a process of criminal law, and judicial denunciation took the place of evangelical. The difference consists in this, that the judicial declaration is made not merely for the reformation, but also for the punishment of the guilty person. By ordinary process of law, it is an accuser who evokes the dormant power of the judge. If the charge be false, such accuser is obliged to sustain the punishment that would have been inflicted on the guilty party. In modern ecclesiastical law proceedings, however, this law of reprisals has gone into desuetude, and in diocesan courts the promotor fiscalis takes the place of the accuser. The difference between the accuser and denouncer is that the latter does not assume the obligation of proving the charge which he brings, and so is not amenable to the law of reprisals or retaliation. To avoid, however, the multiplication of unfounded charges, a denouncer whose accusation can not be proved, is ordinarily suspended from his benefice and dignities until it is made manifest that his denunciation did not proceed from malice. If the person denounced be declared judicially innocent of the crime laid to him, then the denouncer must make oath that he acted in good faith in bringing the charges. It is allowed to the denouncer to appear also as a witness in the trial. The person denounced is, by that very fact, considered to have suffered in his good name and as a consequence he becomes incapable for a year of receiving any sacred order or benefice, unless he be found innocent. It is to be remarked that denunciation is not supposed to take place until private admonitions have been tried fruitlessly. Denunciation in the strict sense of the law has practically gone into desuetude, and its place is taken by a simple statement to a superior who has the right of proceeding canonically against delinquents, without subjecting the informer to the obligations incumbent on denouncers.
There is a special obligation imposed by a decree of the Holy Office to denounce heretics, magicians, those who have abused the Sacrament of Penance (see Solicitation) and others guilty of similar crimes to the Inquisition (see Inquisition). Where Catholics, however, live in places where they are mixed with heretics, they are not bound to denounce the latter. The term denunciation is also applied to matters connected with the Sacrament of Matrimony (see Banns of Marriage). Finally, as to the obligation of denouncing transgressors, every person is bound to do so, when he can fulfil the duty without grave detriment to himself and with corresponding utility to society or individuals. In certain cases only, is denunciation strictly prescribed, as in those relating to matrimonial impediments, to abuse of the confessional, and to the names of leaders of secret societies.
WILLIAM H. W. FANNING