Pope Francis issued sweeping new laws for the Catholic Church on the investigation of clergy sexual abuse May 9, mandating for the first time that all priests and members of religious orders worldwide are obligated to report any suspicions of abuse or its cover-up.
The pontiff has also established a new global system for the evaluation of reports of abuse or cover-up by bishops, which foresees the empowering of archbishops to conduct investigations of prelates in their local regions with the help of Vatican authorities.
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The new norms, contained in a brief apostolic letter titled Vosestis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), are exhaustive in scope, applying in some way to every ordained or vowed member of the 1.3 billion-person church. They also encourage lay people to make reports of abuse, and provide for involvement of lay experts in investigations.
In his introduction to the document, which goes into effect from June 1, Pope Francis says he has created the new laws so that the church will “continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future.”
“The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful,” the Pope states. “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.”
The new procedure essentially contains five steps:
1. A person alleging abuse or cover-up by a prelate makes a report to their bishop, the Vatican, or the church’s ambassador in their country.
2. If that abuse or cover-up involves a prelate, the bishop or superior receiving the report is obligated to forward it to both the Vatican and the metropolitan archbishop of their regional province.
3. Once that report has been filed, the metropolitan archbishop is to ask the Vatican for authority to conduct an investigation.
4. After receiving proper authority, the metropolitan conducts the investigation, sending reports to the Vatican on its status every thirty days. The initial time-frame for investigation is ninety days, but can be extended.
5. Once the investigation is finished, the metropolitan is to communicate its results and his opinion on the matter to the Vatican for a final determination of the outcome for the bishop in question.