Pope Francis announced a new church law Thursday establishing universal protocols for the church concerning reporting and investigating allegations of clergy sex abuse.
The pontiff’s announcement of the new law – a motu proprio entitled Vos estis lux mundi meaning “You are the light of the world” – came in the wake of the Vatican’s February summit on sex abuse meant to equip bishops to face the church’s global sex abuse crisis.
The law establishes investigation and reporting procedures in cases where those accused of sexual abuse are bishops or higher ranking leaders of the church, according to The Associated Press. (RELATED: Pope Benedict Breaks Silence On Sex Abuse Crisis)
BREAKING: #PopeFrancis issues new Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”); providing guidelines for reporting and investigating sexual abuse, especially of adults, minors and vulnerable persons. pic.twitter.com/HySZlArWaw
— Catholic News Service (@CatholicNewsSvc) May 9, 2019
The law, which will go into effect on June 1, introduces several new stipulations for clergy concerning abuse allegations, including:
- All clergy are now mandated to report sex abuse instances or allegations to higher church authorities; and
- Protections from “prejudice, retaliation or discrimination” are afforded to those who do report clergy sex abuse allegations, and their superiors cannot order them to stay silent about any allegations they report; and
- Clergy must report: Engaging in sexual acts with minors or other vulnerable peoples; forcing someone by ‘violence, threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts;’ the distribution, creation, showing of, or forcing children to be involved in any way with child pornography; and
- Every diocese across the globe must implement a system by June 1, 2020 through which people can anonymously report allegations of sexual abuse to church authorities, and report to the Vatican that they have done so; and
- Accusations against bishops will be reported to the Metropolitan archbishops. In cases where the Metropolitan archbishop stands accused, the allegations must be reported to the Vatican through the local Papal nuncio, or Vatican ambassador. If the nuncio stands accused, the allegations must be reported to the Vatican’s Secretary of State; and
- Clergy are to welcome, listen to, and support victims of abuse and offer them spiritual, psychological, and medical assistance. Clergy will also report the conclusion of an investigation to the relevant victim should they request it; and
- Those under investigation will be presumed innocent until proven guilty; and
- Qualified lay experts may assist in investigations; and
- Bishops’ conferences must establish a fund by which to finance the investigation of sexual abuse allegations.
“In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission,” the motu proprio reads, according to Crux Now.
The law also requires the Vatican dicastery to address an allegation within 30 days from the time it is reported. The relevant metropolitan bishop, or someone who he appoints, must then conduct a preliminary investigation of the allegation within 90 days from the time of its initial report.
While Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Cardinal Marc Ouellet praised the new law as an important step in bringing the sex abuse crisis within the church to an end, several other clerics and victims’ advocates criticized the law as ineffectual and rushed.
“The edict has three serious weaknesses,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishopaccountability.org told Crux. “It stipulates no penalties for those who ignore it, it mandates no transparency to the public, and it doesn’t require the permanent removal of abusers from ministry.”
“This is not the bold action that’s desperately needed. A law without penalties is not a law at all – it’s a suggestion,” she added.
Peter Isely, abuse survivor and director of the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, also criticized the law for not requiring bishops to report sexual abuse to legal authorities.
“This new law leaves it up to the bishop to report it to civil authorities — he does not have to,” Isely told The New York Times. “Hasn’t that also been the problem? How does this change anything?”
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