New Vatican laws provide stronger response for victims of abuse

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This June, at the Vatican, the new laws on sexual abuses went into effect.

It is the result of Pope Francis' “Motu Proprio”: Vox estis lux mundi, i.e, “You are the light of the world.” This document entrusts greater responsibility to the local churches. It also lays out the need for a reform of the criminal procedures within canon law.

The law of the Church obliges members to denounce cases of abuse and strengthens measures against offenders.

Professor of Canonical Criminal Law
“This law can do something that the law of the state cannot accomplish. It can definitively prohibit a priest from practicing as a priest. It has the possibility of intervening within the ministerial and priestly dimension.”

Davide Cito is a professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He explains that, as a first step, episcopal conferences should open an office focused on the care for victims of abuse. They must also establish an accessible system that makes cases of abuses easy to denounce.

Each case would be studied in detail. No more than 90 days should pass from the beginning to the end of the preliminary investigations within a diocese. The accused priest must then respond to the accusations before the Church and society.

In addition, the text establishes protective measures for the accuser, in which he or she may not be subject either to discrimination or extortion. 

In many past cases, bishops and priests asked victims not to denounce cases of abuse or they did not take sufficient measures against the accused. These are now crimes.

Professor of Canonical Criminal Law
“In fact, it is now a crime to tell someone not to denounce a case of abuse or to withhold information on the matter. All this concealment is a canonical crime. Here is where the Church can intervene.”

Although the law has been approved on an experimental basis for the next three years, it may lead to a reform of the Code of Canon Law.

Professor of Canonical Criminal Law
“Something that I would do – in my personal opinion – is to take the current abuse of minors, and, rather than making it an act against the chastity of the clergy, turn it into an act against the celibacy of the clergy... Then place it within the section of crimes against the human person: homicide, abuse, and violence put a greater emphasis on the victims and less emphasis on the priest.”

These are striking words the Church could constitute in the coming years...

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