Canonical admonitions are a preliminary means used by the Catholic Church towards a suspected person, as a preventive of harm or a remedy of evil. Referenced in previous canon law codes, use of canonical admonition remains a step in the escalating punitive process in both the current 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
The 1880 instruction, by direction of Pope Leo XIII, from the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars to the bishops of Italy, gave them the privilege to use a summary procedure in trials of the clergy for criminal or disciplinary transgressions. Article IV decrees: "Among the preservative measures are chiefly to be reckoned the spiritual retreat, admonitions, and injunctions." Article VI: "The canonical admonitions may be made in a paternal and private manner (even by letter or by an intermediary person), or in legal form, but always in such a way that proof of their having been made shall remain on record."
These admonitions are to be founded upon a suspicion of guilt that is excited by public rumor and investigated by a proper authority, with the result establishing a reasonable basis for the suspicion. If little foundation for the suspicion is discovered, the superior should not even admonish the person, unless the suspected person has given, on previous occasions, serious motive for faultfinding.
Admonitions may be either paternal or legal (canonical). If the grounds are such as to produce a serious likelihood, or half-proof, they will suffice for a paternal admonition, which is administered after the following steps:
Thus the way is paved for the above-mentioned canonical or legal admonition. The assumed half-proof is strengthened, first, by the contumacy of the suspect; secondly, by his confession of the charge in question. An accusation issuing from a reliable person, or a prevalent evil reputation of the suspect, may substitute for the defect of proof needed for indictment.
For the paternal admonition it is enough that this evil reputation should be spread among less responsible persons, but for the legal admonition the evil reputation should emanate from serious and reliable persons. The legal admonition is to a great extent akin to the summons to judgment.
If there is any urgency in the case, one peremptory summons, declaring it to take the place of the three, will suffice. The prelate may still feel that he has not enough evidence to prove the delinquency. He may allow the suspect to purge himself of the suspicion or accusation by his oath and the attestation of two or more reliable persons that they are persuaded of his innocence and that they trust his word. If he cannot find such vouchers for his innocence, and yet there be no strictly legal proof of his guilt (though there are grave reasons for suspicion), the prelate may follow the legal admonition by a special precept or command, according to the character of the suspected delinquency.
The infringement of this precept will entail the right to inflict the penalty which should be mentioned at the time the command is given. This must be done by the prelate or his delegate in a formal legal way before two witnesses and the notary of his curia, be signed by them, and by the suspect if he so desires. The paternal admonition is to be kept secret; the legal admonition is a recognized part of the "acts" for future procedure.