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Pope approves process for holding bishops accountable in abuse cases

June 10, 2015

Pope Francis has approved new norms that will allow for disciplinary action against bishops who fail to take action on sex-abuse complaints.

The norms call for the creation of a new tribunal, under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to judge bishops who are charged with “crimes of the abuse of office” in sex-abuse cases.

The new norms were recommended by the special papal commission on sexual abuse, which is chaired by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. The proposals were submitted this week to the Council of Cardinals, which endorsed them, and given final approval by Pope Francis.

The new policy responds to widespread complaints that although priests, religious, and clerical employees are now subject to disciplinary action for sexual abuse, diocesan bishops had not been held accountable for negligence in handling complaints or for deliberately concealing clerical abuse.

The norms stipulate that complaints about a bishop’s abuse of office should be submitted to the competent Vatican dicastery: the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Eastern Churches, or the Congregation for Evangelization. (These Vatican congregations have some supervisory responsibility over bishops, with the Congregation for Evangelization handling the dioceses in missionary territories and the Congregation for Eastern Churches handling the dioceses and eparches of the Catholic churches of the Eastern rites.)

In approving the policy, Pope Francis also approved the allocation of “adequate resources” to staff the new tribunal. This tribunal will be headed by a secretary, appointed by the Pontiff, serving under the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The staff of the tribunal will assist in cases involving sexual abuse by other clerics; disciplinary action in those cases is already the responsibility of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The new policies were approved by Pope Francis for a five-year period, after which the process will be evaluated and may be revised.

Two lay members of the special papal commission on sexual abuse welcomed the news from the Vatican in email messages to the Crux web site. Peter Saunders said that he saw the creation of the tribunal as “a positive step that clearly indicates that Pope Francis is listening to his commission.” Marie Collins said she was “very pleased” with the move.


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  • Posted by: doughlousek7433 - Jun. 11, 2015 9:50 AM ET USA

    Excellent! The Catholic Church now leads the way in policies for sexual abuse!