Pope’s New Norms on Sex Abuse Leave Power in Hands of Bishops

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 9, 2019   

Motu proprio 'Vos Estis Lux Mundi' closely aligns with Wuerl/Cupich alternate sex abuse proposal

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The pope's new motu proprio on sex abuse allows the bishops to investigate themselves, cutting laity out of any investigation and failing to direct clergy to report abuse to secular authorities.

Published Thursday, 'Vos Estis Lux Mundi,' places the metropolitan archbishop in charge of any investigation into allegations of abuse by brother bishops. The metropolitan's power is near-total.

The metropolitan's power is near-total.

In the initial stages, the metropolitan is given authority to reject a claim as unfounded and drop any investigation. "If the Metropolitan considers the report manifestly unfounded, he shall so inform the Pontifical Representative" — the papal liaison, who then informs the competent dicastery in Rome.

If the metropolitan believes the claim is founded, he is then placed in charge of overseeing all aspects of the investigation, including:

a) collect[ing] relevant information regarding the facts;

b) access[ing] the information and documents necessary for the purpose of the investigation kept in the archives of ecclesiastical offices;

c) obtain[ing] the cooperation of other Ordinaries or Hierarchs whenever necessary;

d) request[ing] information from individuals and institutions, including civil institutions, that are able to provide useful elements for the investigation.

Article 19 — the last article — gives brief mention of complying with state law on reporting requirements; however, nowhere in the motu proprio are clergy instructed to report abuse to secular authorities, leaving the investigation entirely within the ranks of the Church.


 

Critics are slamming the document as insufficient, noting its striking similarity to the Wuerl alternate sex abuse proposal heavily promoted by Cdl. Blase Cupich in Baltimore, Maryland in November. That plan also proposed placing sex abuse investigations of fellow bishops under the auspices of the metropolitan. 

Theodore McCarrick would have been the metropolitan in charge of investigating abuse by bishops.

In the case of Cupich, he would be the metropolitan in charge of overseeing any investigation of brother bishops in his jurisdiction. Theodore McCarrick — laicized after being exposed as a serial homosexual predator — would have been the metropolitan in charge of investigating abuse by bishops, if the norms had been in place during his time in Washington D.C.

The Wuerl/Cupich proposal also made clear laity would not be involved in any investigation — a direct contradiction to ideas proposed by other American bishops, including Cdl. Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cdl. Sean O'Malley, head of the Pontifical Commission on Protection of Minors, who agreed that laymen should take part in investigating abuse. 

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio, stunned American bishops in Baltimore when, in his opening speech, he rejected the possibility of a lay board to investigate sex abuse. Pierre had been spotted dining and conferring privately with Cupich and Wuerl at the Marriott hotel, and both Wuerl and Cupich had been seen frequently together in Rome in the weeks leading up to the November Baltimore bishops meeting.

Although the majority of bishops, including DiNardo, were caught off guard by the turn of events — there was an audible gasp in the room when DiNardo announced that Rome wanted the votes on sex abuse reform delayed until the February synod — it was clear Cupich had already been aware of the plan. He was first on his feet to address the news with what seemed a prepared speech, insisting that the Holy Father is "serious" about getting to the bottom of the McCarrick abuse scandal and that bishops should spend the remaining months discussing next steps. 

Those "next steps" never came at the February summit, widely criticized for its failure to propose concrete steps to address abuse at the hands of bishops.

The only significant difference in the motu proprio from the Wuerl/Cupich proposal is that the motu proprio includes adult seminarians and religious in the same criminal categories as minors and vulnerable adults. Even so, a seminarian or religious who alleges abuse at the hands of a bishop must still submit to the investigative authority of the metropolitan, who then submits his final determination to the Holy See. 

Confidence in Church leadership is at an all-time low.

Confidence in Church leadership is at an all-time low, after revelations last summer exposing McCarrick as a serial sexual predator, after having been the public face of the response to the sex abuse crisis in 2002. He played a key role in formulating the Dallas Charter, meant to hold clergy accountable for abuse — all while abusing minors, seminarians and clergy himself.

The publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in mid-August, followed by Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's testimony about a clerical homosexual network within the Church conspiring to cover up McCarrick's crimes, led to a cascade of criminal probes launched in multiple states, with a number of attorneys general insisting the Church cannot police itself.

The new norms issued by the Vatican Thursday continue the same paradigm, allowing the Church to police itself, and leaving power to investigate abusive bishops in the hands of the bishops themselves.

 

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