Media and Communications Office
Pope Francis has issued new laws making it mandatory for clergy to report any cases of abuse, suspicions of abuse or the cover-up of abuse to Church authorities. In an apostolic letter released on Thursday, the Pope has established universal new norms for the handling of abuse within the Church.
In the introduction to the letter, Pope Francis says he created the new laws so the Church will ‘continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future’.
In order to stop all forms of abuse from ever happening again, not only is ‘a continuous and profound conversion of hearts’ necessary, there must be ‘concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the church,’ the Pontiff wrote.
This is the first law of its kind, obligating all officials in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide to report cases of clergy sexual abuse to Church authorities.
It also allows anyone to complain directly to the Vatican.
‘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 the letter. ‘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.’
Until now, responses to accusations of sexual abuse have differed depending on the country and the diocese where abuse occurred.
The title of the apostolic letter is motu proprio (a change to Church law under the Pope’s authority) is Vos estis lux mundi, or ‘You are the light of the world.’
The new laws do not require Church officials to report accusations of abuse to local police, though mandatory reporting of abuse to police has been enshrined in law in Australia for two decades. The apostolic letter stipulates that Church officials should not interfere with investigations by civil authorities.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has welcomed Pope Francis’ new document on the investigation and reporting of abuse within Church settings, which enshrines some measures long in place in Australia but also makes new provisions that will give greater impetus to the Church’s safeguarding efforts in this country.
Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who represented the Australian bishops at the meeting of leaders of episcopal conferences at the Vatican in February, said the publication is the latest concrete outcome following that unprecedented gathering.
‘The release of this document less than three months after the meeting shows that, for Pope Francis, the updating of universal Church law on the investigation and reporting of abuse against children and other vulnerable people is a real priority,’ Archbishop Coleridge said.
‘It’s a priority the Australian bishops share. Now all bishops conferences and religious congregations around the world will have to meet more rigorous standards. That’s a good thing.’
Archbishop Coleridge said the Church in Australia will continue to implement protocols that go beyond the requirements of the motu proprio.
‘For example, reporting allegations to the police and other government authorities has been part of our Church practice for more than two decades. We remain committed to having the most effective practices possible,’ he said.
To date, this is the Vatican’s most comprehensive response to the child sexual abuse scandal that has troubled the Church over recent decades.
At a Vatican briefing, Papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said it was an important day for the protection of minors in the Church and described the new norms as a contribution toward ‘making the Church ever more a safe house for our children, the weak and the vulnerable.’
The new laws stipulate that:
- Every diocese in the world must have a system for reporting by June 1, 2020 and notify the Vatican’s representative in the country that the system has been put in place.
- All priests and members of religious orders are to report cases of sexual abuse and cover-up to Church authorities, but they must follow local law when it comes to reporting to civil authorities.
- Lay experts may be involved in the Church’s investigation of any allegation made against a priest, male or female religious, deacon, bishop and cardinal.
- Reporting of crimes and cover-ups follows the Church’s hierarchical structure.
- Abuse or cover-up by bishops must be brought to the attention of Metropolitan archbishops, but in case the Metropolitan archbishop is accused of abuse, reporting can be done directly to the Holy See through the papal representative in the country. If the person accused is the nuncio, the allegation must be sent directly to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
- The person who reports a case of abuse or cover-up must be protected, and they cannot be obliged to keep silent regarding the content of any report they file.
- ‘The person under investigation enjoys the presumption of innocence.’
- Bishops’ conferences are to create a ‘common fund’ to help finance the investigation of allegations.
The motu proprio will come into effect June 1, 2019.