On Saturday, Pope Francis issued a decree strengthening laws that will allow for the removal of bishops that are found to be covering up sex abuse cases involving children or vulnerable adults within the church.
Under pressure from families of victims lobbying for Pope Francis to protect the victims and punish the abusers, and facing growing criticism of the Vatican for not holding both abusers, and the bishops who oversee them, accountable for their actions, the Pope has spoken out on the matter. New laws will make the swift removal of any bishop failing to report such cases Pope Francis said in an apostolic letter published on Saturday. In the letter, Francis explained that canon law already allows bishops to be removed for their positions for “serious reasons,” but he wanted to clarify that among those serious reasons is the failure to report cases of sexual abuse within the church, reports CNN.
“As a loving mother, the Church loves all her children, but treats and protects with a very particular affection the smaller and helpless. This is a task that Christ entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. With this in mind, the Church is vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults.”
Pope Francis’ letter continues on to state that bishops and other church leaders must protect those within their flocks who are the weakest and most vulnerable, and that in cases of sexual abuse against children or vulnerable adults, “it is sufficient that the lack of care is serious.” Francis also warned bishops that the Vatican has the authority to remove bishops that they deem have broken such laws. If a bishop has been found to cover up such a case, or failed to report it, the Vatican will either urge the bishop to submit their resignation, or they will issue a decree of removal. Ultimately though, the final decision lands with Pope Francis.
According to the New York Times, last year, Pope Francis approved the creation of a tribunal that would judge and discipline bishops who had a hand — whether directly or indirectly — in child sexual abuse cases within the church. Due to judicial and bureaucratic problems, the tribunal never materialized, but with a team of lawyers at his side, established to help him make decisions in regards to potential negligent bishops, Pope Francis has effectively told his flock that he is listening, and he wants to right past wrongs.
For years, many have accused bishops of simply moving priests accused of sex crimes to different parishes, rather than holding them accountable for their actions, or reporting them to police or church authorities. Under Pope Francis’ new guidelines, bishops found to be doing this will be removed from their positions within the church — a long-awaited answer to a decades-long problem.
While some, like SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) — the largest victims’ group in the US — are wary of Pope Francis latest decree, saying that they are “extraordinarily skeptical,” there are those who believe this is a good first step. Vatican expert Gerard O’Connell falls in the latter category.
“This is a major step to ensure that no bishop can fail in his duty to protect children and vulnerable adults, and if he does fail, he can be removed. I think it goes a long way to respond to what was still seen as a big loophole in the system. It closes that loophole.”
How do you feel about Pope Francis’ new guidelines created to hold bishops accountable for their part in sex abuse cover ups within the church? Is it merely a window dressing, or step in the right direction?
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