Pope issues new rules for handling sex-abuse complaints
May 09, 2019
Pope Francis has issued new canonical rules for the handling of sex-abuse complaints.
In a motu proprio made public on May 9, the Pope set out guidelines that require all Catholic dioceses to establish systems for the reporting of sex-abuse complaints. The guidelines also detail how complaints against bishops should be handled.
The new guidelines reflect the results of deliberations held at the Vatican in February, when the Pope met with the leaders of episcopal conferences from around the world to discuss the sex-abuse scandal and the proper ecclesiastical response.
In an accompanying letter, Pope Francis says that the papal document, entitled Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You are the light of the world), has as its goal “that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again.”
“This responsibility falls, above all, on the successors of the Apostles, chosen by God to be pastoral leaders of his People,” the Pope writes. The document spells out the duties of bishops to investigate all credible charges of abuse.
The new canonical rules make it mandatory for priests and religious to report evidence of sexual abuse. The rules also make it a canonical crime to cover up evidence of abuse, and mandate prompt reporting of any evidence of a cover-up, as well. The new document specifically prohibits “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations.”
Because the processes set forth in the motu proprio rely on the bishops to enforce them, the Pope has also set up new guidelines for handling complaints against the bishops themselves. In such cases, the investigation is entrusted to the archbishop of the metropolitan region—or, if the archbishop himself is the target of a charge, to the Holy See.
The rules require that victims of sexual abuse should be “welcomed, listened to and supported,” specifically by the provision of spiritual, medical, and psychological assistance.”
The motu proprio establishes ambitious standards for the prompt handling of sex-abuse complaints. In cases involving complaints against bishops, the rules require that an investigation must be organized within 30 days of receipt of a credible allegation, and that investigation should be concluded within 90 days.
The rules allow a prelate to enlist the help of lay specialists in carrying out an investigation, and directs dioceses to set up a fund for payment of investigators.
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- Apostolic Letter in the form of “Motu proprio” of the Supreme Pontiff Francis “Vos estis lux mundi” (Vatican press office)
- Holy See Press Office Communiqué (Vatican press office)
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