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New papal document states mandatory reporting and investigating procedures for abuse


Pope Francis has written a new motu proprio, "Vos estis lux mundi", or “You are the light of the world” in English. It presents new procedures for reporting abuse cases, that must be applied to the entire Catholic Church. Its goal is to keep religious men and women accountable for their actions. 

DIOCESAN OFFICES

It gives every diocese in the world until June 2020 to establish a mandatory office with "one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports." It will address abuse committed, child abuse cover up and the use of child pornography. 

The goal is for each victim to be listened to, protected and taken seriously.

PROTECTION FOR CHILDREN, RELIGIOUS AND VULNERABLE

Pope Francis defines what the sins against the sixth commandment are and also the definition of minor, vulnerable person and child pornography.

He includes crimes against religious sisters and also those committed against seminarians or novices by other clerics. 

Minors (anyone under age 18) must be protected, along with vulnerable persons. The definition of vulnerable person coincides with that established in the law for Vatican City State on March 29, 2019.

COVER UP

Cover-up has also been defined. They are "actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the delicts." It is aimed at those with positions in the Church who have hidden abuses by others.

REPORTING OBLIGATION

A major change is that now all religious men and women are obliged to “report promptly” to ecclesiastical authorities any accusation of abuse they hear. While only religious are included in this mandate, laity are also asked to participate.

LAITY

It states that while conducting investigations "qualified persons" may be called upon “in particular, the cooperation that can be offered by the lay faithful." Yet, it states that those participating must be “free of conflicts of interest” and are required to take an oath to carry out the investigation properly. 

Despite this, the ultimate responsibility for investigations lies with the Metropolitan.

METROPOLITAN

The Metropolitan Archbishop has new responsibilities. When investigating bishops, he will receive a mandate from the Holy See to look into the case. Then, the Holy See has set fixed time frames, requiring a “status report on the state of the investigation” every thirty days. This will ensure everyone is responding to the case in a timely manner.

FUNDS FOR INVESTIGATIONS

A fund may be created to pay for the cost of the investigations, by Ecclesiastical provinces, Episcopal Conferences, Synods of Bishops or Councils of Hierarchs. The Metropolitan can gain access to this money through the administrator of the fund. The administrator must also receive a full account of how the money was spent at the end of the investigation. 

PRESUMED INNOCENCE

The document restates the importance of assuming innocence until proven guilty. It establishes that the accused will only be informed of the investigation if the Dicastery has asked, but he or she must be made aware of any formal processes that are opened. Yet, this step can be skipped if the integrity of the case is at risk.

STATE LAWS

The document also reinforces the importance of adhering to other reporting obligations in each respective country. It states the norms "apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities."

CONSEQUENCES

The penalties for committing a crime of sexual abuse do not change, rather mandatory procedures for reporting and investigating are established. 

The Metropolitan must send the results to the competent Vatican Dicastery, will continue the process in accordance with canonical norms and the law. The Holy See at that point, can set preventative and restrictive measures against the accused.