Motu proprio: removal of bishops for negligence in abuse cases

New norms for the removal of bishops in relation to negligence &c relating to the abuse of minors or vulnerable adults

Vatican Radio reportsIn a new Apostolic Letter, issued motu proprio, Pope Francis has established new norms providing for the removal of Bishops (or those equivalent to them in Canon Law) from their offices in cases where they have “through negligence, committed or omitted acts that have caused grave harm to others, either with regard to physical persons, or with regard to the community itself.”

The Apostolic Letter Come una madre amorevole (As a Loving Mother) “clarifies that, with regard ‘to abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, it is sufficient that the lack of diligence be grave’ and establishes a procedure for carrying out provisions currently available within both the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches”. Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Office, explained that this is not a penal procedure “because it concerns cases of negligence, rather than with a crime that has been committed”.

He stressed: “the ‘lack of diligence’ necessary for removal from office can exist even be ‘without grave moral fault’ on the part of the Bishop; and “in cases concerning the abuse of minors “it is sufficient that the lack of diligence be ‘grave,’ while in other cases it is required that the lack of diligence be ‘very grave’.” On the latter point, Vatican Radio explains “this effectively lowers the standard necessary for a Bishop to be removed from office when there is negligence with regard to cases of sexual abuse”.

The Dicasteries charged with implementing the procedures include the Congregations for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Oriental Churches, and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, instead of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, the Apostolic Letter introduces a new “dedicated College of jurists” (It.: “apposite Collegio di giuristi“), expected to be composed of Cardinals and Bishops, which would assist Pope Francis before he makes a definitive decision. Fr Father Lombardi further added that “because the Apostolic Letter concerns new procedural norms, the question of retroactivity does not apply, as law on the possibility of removal from office ‘for grave cause’ already exists. The Letter simply establishes procedures for the application of the already existing law”.

The new norms will be effective from 5 September 2016.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Motu proprio: removal of bishops for negligence in abuse cases" in Law & Religion UK, 4 June 2016,

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