Pope Francis praying. Photo: Vatican Media
In early May, Pope Francis issued a landmark decree making it mandatory for clerics and religious to report incidents of sexual abuse or cover-ups to church authorities and allowing anyone to complain directly to the Vatican if needed.
By publishing this decree, Motu Proprio – ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You Are the Light of the World), Pope Francis has established new measures, which must be adopted, to prevent and combat sexual abuses committed against minors, against vulnerable persons or committed with violence, threats or the abuse of authority. The new Vatican norms for the Church’s handling of sexual abuse covers children and vulnerable adults and also addresses the possession of child pornography.
The document represents another result of the Meeting on the Protection of Minors convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican in February 2019. It establishes new procedural rules to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions. It establishes universal norms, which apply to the whole Catholic Church.
The Pope writes at the beginning of the document: ‘The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, … . Therefore, it is good that procedures be universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful.’
Among other details, this new law sets time limits for local investigations and the Vatican’s response to them and requiring every diocese around the world to create an accessible, confidential reporting system to receive claims of sexual abuse and cover-ups.
President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) Bishop Patrick Dunn said the New Zealand Bishops are fully supportive of these measures and they would ensure the Pope’s recommendations would be fully implemented.
‘While protocols for reporting sexual abuse have been in place in this country for some time, we will study these new norms from the Vatican to audit our processes and ensure all recommendations he has put before us are fully implemented. As the Holy Father said in this decree, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future.’
Cardinal John Dew said, ‘While Pope Francis’ new document is meant for bishops, priests and religious requiring them to report sexual abuse and cover ups, it would be helpful for everyone to read and be familiar with this document.
Links to Vos Estis Lux Mundi:
NZ Catholic Bishops Conference
Published in WelCom June 2019