Protection of minors – RC Bishops’ accountability

A report from Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley was presented to the afternoon session of the Council of Cardinals on 8 June 2015. The report included: a proposal for Pope Francis regarding allegations of the abuse of office by a bishop connected to the abuse of minors, originally prepared by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and a proposal regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy. Five specific proposals were made:

“1. That because the competence to receive and investigate complaints of the episcopal abuse of office belongs to the Congregations for Bishops, Evangelization of Peoples, or Oriental Churches, there is the duty to report all complaints to the appropriate Congregation.

2. That the Holy Father mandate the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors.

3. That the Holy Father authorize the establishment of a new Judicial Section in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and appointment of stable personnel to undertake service in the Tribunal. The implementation of this decision would follow consultation with the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

4. That the Holy Father appoints a Secretary to assist the Prefect with the Tribunal. The Secretary will have responsibility for the new Judicial Section and the personnel of the Section will also be available to the Prefect for penal processes regarding the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy. This appointment will also follow the consultation with the Prefect of the Congregation.

5. That the Holy Father establishes a five-year period for further development of these proposals and for completing a formal evaluation of their effectiveness.”

[Original language: Italian]

The Council of Cardinals agreed unanimously on these proposals and resolved that sufficient resources be provided for this purpose.

In his blog, John Thavis comments:

“The Pope still has the ultimate say in requesting a bishop’s resignation, but as a Vatican spokesman said, the tribunal’s findings would normally be accepted and acted upon by the Pope.

For years, bishops’ accountability has been the missing element in the Vatican’s approach to sexual abuse by priests. Despite the many cases of mismanagement and negligence on the part of bishops who turned a blind eye or moved abusive priests from parish to parish, very few bishops have been removed from office.

That’s because, until now, there was no systematic process for discipline and dismissal when such failures occurred.

There are several remarkable aspects of Pope Francis’ decision:

— It demonstrated that bishops are no longer considered “untouchable,” and will face serious consequences for their actions or inaction.

— It made clear that bishops answer not only to the Pope, but also to their people. That reflects a new willingness at the Vatican to implement the church law provision that says bishops can lose their office for “culpable negligence” that harms the faithful.

— By inviting complaints against bishops – saying, in fact, that Catholics have a “duty” to report such failings – the Vatican has opened a new and important channel of communication for Catholic laity.

— The Pope’s decision grew out of a proposal from the predominantly lay Commission for the Protection of Minors, established last year by Pope Francis. The commission (which some considered merely a public relations stratagem) has thus had tremendous impact on an issue that previously had been reserved to the Pope and his top aides.

— The decision came quickly. Only four months ago, reporters learned that the Commission for the Protection of Minors was proposing ways to hold bishops to account. At that time, commission members said they were consulting with the Vatican’s canon law experts – a stage that can last years, or forever. It’s clear to me that the Pope and his hand-picked Council of Nine cardinals pushed this through.”

Thavis suggests that the announcement gives Pope Francis more credibility on the sex abuse issue: in a meeting with abuse survivors last year, the Pope told them that bishops would be held accountable. He has now put in place the machinery to make good on that promise.

3 thoughts on “Protection of minors – RC Bishops’ accountability

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