In the latest effort to stamp out clerical sex abuse, the Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has established new norms to ensure that bishops, or those of equal rank, can be removed when they have been negligent, active or complicit in acts causing grave harm to others or a community.

In a new Apostolic Letter, issued motu proprio, entitled “Come una madre amorevole” (As a Loving Mother), the new norms provide for the removal of bishops (or those equivalent to them in Canon Law) from their offices in cases where they have “through negligence, committed or omitted acts that have caused grave harm to others, either with regard to physical persons, or with regard to the community itself.”

The Letter also clarifies in cases of “abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, it is sufficient that the lack of diligence be grave.”

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, said in an explanatory note that the apostolic letter “insists on the importance of vigilant care for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, calling for a ‘particular diligence.”

Therefore, he continued, “it clarifies that negligence regarding cases of sexual abuse committed against children or vulnerable adults are among the ‘grave causes’ that justify removal from ecclesiastical offices, even of bishops.”

Episcopal negligence of abusive clergy, or willful cover-ups by bishops who had been abusing minors, has been a major cause of the clerical sex abuse crisis for decades.  

The new letter establishes a procedure for carrying out a law already present in the Church but it is not a penal procedure because it concerns cases of negligence rather than a crime, Father Lombardi said.

For this reason, instead of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which normally deals with such penal procedures, these cases of negligence will be handled by four dicasteries: the Congregations for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Oriental Churches, and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Father Lombardi drew attention to two noteworthy points: first, that diligence may be lacking even “without grave moral culpability” on the part of the bishop (art. 1§2). Second, that for removal from office, in the case of abuse of minors, “it is sufficient for the lack of diligence to be grave” (art.1§3), while in other cases a “very grave” lack of diligence must be demonstrated (art.1§2).

Since this relates to important decisions involving bishops, he added, specific approval depends on the Holy Father, something which is not a novelty.

However, he pointed to “a new aspect” which is the creation of a “dedicated special college of legal experts” which will assist the Holy Father before assuming a definitive decision. “It is expected that this college will be constituted of cardinals and bishops,” Father Lombardi said.

He also noted that as this law regards procedure, “it does not present issues as to whether application will be retroactive or otherwise, since the law providing for removal for office on the grounds of ‘grave causes’ already exists. From now on, he said, the procedure for the application of Canon 193 §1 is that which has hereby been established.”

 

New Congregation for the Laity, Family and Life

Pope Francis also today formally approved ad experimentum the statute for the new Congregation for the Laity, Family and Life. The new "super dicastery" will combine, from Sept. 1, the current Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, and incorporate the Pontifical Academy for Life. The Vatican said that on that date, both pontifical councils will "cease their duties and become suppressed, articles 131-134 and 139-141 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of 28 June 1988 being repealed." Those articles related to the nature and duties of the soon to be wound up dicasteries.