Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Another new policy, but we're still waiting for definitive Vatican action on negligent bishops

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 06, 2016

The new motu proprio is entitled Come una Madre Amorevole, but it might just as well have been named "And This Time We Really Mean It.” The papal document does not (despite what you might have read in the headlines) create a policy for removing bishops who neglect evidence of sexual abuse. The Code of Canon Law already provided for the removal of bishops “for grave causes.” The new motu proprio only clarifies the process for ousting a bishop, and states clearly what everyone should already know: that failure to curtail sexual abuse of minors by clerics is a “grave cause.”

Thus it was already possible—a week or a year or a decade ago—for the Vatican to remove a bishop who protected sexual predators. With the release of the motu proprio we know more about how the Vatican would go about ousting a negligent bishop. We still don’t know whether or when the new procedures will be put to use.

“So it can be done,” writes Father Alexander Lucie-Smith in the Catholic Herald. “What is needed is the will to do it.” Exactly. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who heads the special papal commission on sexual abuse, remarked to National Catholic Reporter that the motu proprio conveys ""a sense of urgency and clarity that was not there before." Really? Has it taken 15 years of catastrophe to rouse a "sense of urgency" sufficient for a clarification of canonical guidelines? If that remark is intended as reassuring, it fails.

Last June the Pope announced plans to create a tribunal to handle complaints of episcopal neglect. Nearly a year (51 weeks, to be precise) passed before the Vatican announced this new step. And again the motu proprio does not really open a new path; it provides signage and fresh pavement for a road that has, unfortunately, not yet seen much traffic.

A year has also passed since I asked three questions which, I submit, can be used to gauge the commitment of the Vatican to eliminate the corruption that bred the sex-abuse scandal. Those questions will remain unanswered until we see a different kind of action from Rome: not the creation of new canonical tools, but the energetic use of tools that already exist.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JimKcda - Jun. 08, 2016 12:52 AM ET USA

    dfp3234574 -- I suppose we can assume that you would have this same forgiving and "merciful" attitude even if one of your children had been sexually abused and your accuations had been ignored or covered up -- only to have them validated years later. When a man becomes a diocesan Bishop, he must assume the responsibility as well as the authority of that office. "Sleeping on the job" is not a valid defense for the disgraced leader of any organization, let alone a "Shepherd of the Church."

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Jun. 07, 2016 1:49 PM ET USA

    If I may: The bottom line is that bishops, following the prevailing advice years ago from secular psychologists, *believed they were doing the right thing* for victims and priests. Victims deliberately chose to report their abuse to the Church, *not* the police, out of fear of embarrassment. The climate is *much* different today (and false allegations are egregiously rampant), and I believe it is unfair to judge bishops for their actions decades ago based on today's climate. +: "Year of Mercy"?