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New law tackles bishops’ handling of abuse cases

By editor - 06 June, 2016

pope francis listening

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a new motu proprio outlining the process whereby the Vatican can investigate a bishop alleged to have been negligent on child sexual abuse.

The Apostolic Letter ‘Come una madre amorevole’ (As a Loving Mother) is an attempt to make bishops accountable for their handling or mishandling of abusive priests.

The new norms provide for the removal of bishops (or those equivalent to them in canon law) from their offices in cases where they have “through negligance, committed or omitted acts that have caused grave harm to others, either with regard to physical persons, or with regard to the community itself.”

Under the terms of the new law, the competent congregation of the Curia will be permitted to begin investigating bishops, eparchs, or heads of religious communities when the congregation suspects a leader’s negligence has caused “physical, moral, spiritual or patrimonial” harm.

The law obliges the Vatican to notify the local bishop or leader of the investigation and to give him the possibility to produce relevant documents or testimony.

All decisions by Vatican congregations, the law states, “must be subjected to the specific approval of the Roman Pontiff.”

It says that the Pope will be assisted in making his decision “by a special association of legal experts.”

In a note explaining the new procedures, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi said, “The Apostolic Letter insists on the importance of vigilant care for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, calling for a ‘particular diligence’.”

“It clarifies that negligence regarding cases of sexual abuse committed against children or vulnerable adults are among the ‘grave causes’ that justify removal from ecclesiastical Offices, even of Bishops.”

The new letter, according to Fr Lombardi, establishes a procedure for carrying out a canon already present in both the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches.

It is not a penal procedure, he said, because it concerns cases of negligence, rather than with a crime that has been committed.

Fr Lombardi noted that because the Apostolic Letter concerns new procedural norms, the question of retroactivity does not apply, as law on the possibility of removal from office “for grave cause” already exists. The Letter simply establishes procedures for the application of the already existing law.

The new norms will go into effect beginning on 5 September 2016.

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