In a previous bulletin column, I mentioned that Pope Francis had gathered bishops from all over the world in February for a conference on the sexual abuse crisis. This month, Pope Francis has followed this up with the first Church-wide law requiring the reporting of clergy sexual abuse. This includes accountability for bishops who commit or cover up abuse. The law was issued in a document (a “motu proprio”) entitled You Are the Light of the World, which goes into effect on June 1st. The full text of the letter can be found at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html.
The Pope has given all bishops’ conferences a year to create the offices and procedures necessary to enforce this law. In the United States, this task will be taken up by the U.S. bishops’ at their next meeting in June. I think that the response of the U.S. bishops to Pope Francis’ letter is particularly helpful, so I’m including part of it below. The full text can be found at http://www.usccb.org/news/2019/19-087.cfm.
- “… Pope Francis ordered a worldwide response to the evil of sexual abuse. It calls for the establishment of easily accessible reporting systems, clear standards for the pastoral support of victims and their families, timeliness and thoroughness of investigations, whistleblower protection for those making allegations, and active involvement of the laity. It also leaves latitude for national bishops’ conferences, such as the USCCB, to specify still more to account for their local circumstances. We receive … You Are the Light of the World as a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing …
- In publishing this new law, which is applicable to the Church throughout the world, Pope Francis has made clear that protection and healing must reach all of God’s children. Following on the meeting just two months ago of all episcopal conference presidents, the Motu Proprio shows Pope Francis expects swift and comprehensive progress. For the Church in the United States, the task before us now is to establish whatever is necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the Motu Proprio. Our committees have already begun the work of preparing implementation measures for deliberation at the USCCB Plenary Assembly in June.
- … The existing framework in the United States including victim outreach, zero tolerance, reporting allegations to civil authorities, and lay expertise on review boards, among other measures – positions us readily to bring the Holy Father’s instructions to action. By embracing the painful experience of survivors and working on these new protections, let us pray we continue to grow into a stronger Church.”
I know that this issue – and our failure to deal with it properly — has caused a real crisis of faith for many, so I think it’s important to keep it in the forefront of our consciousness. I’ll continue to publish updates as more action is taken by our bishops.