Pope Francis Approves Greater Bishop Accountability in Abuse Cases

The Holy Father accepted a proposal discussed by the council of cardinals to create a new judicial entity to deal specifically with the hot-button issue.

Members of the council of cardinals stand as Pope Francis arrives at the papal daily Mass June 9 at the Vatican.
Members of the council of cardinals stand as Pope Francis arrives at the papal daily Mass June 9 at the Vatican. (photo: ctv.va)

VATICAN CITY — In approving a new set of proposals dealing with the protection of minors, Pope Francis has established a new judicial entity to deal specifically with bishop accountability in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office tasked with handling the most serious offenses by clergy.

Bishop accountability in the mishandling of abuse cases and abuse allegations was a key theme in the Vatican’s latest round of meetings on Curial reform, which also addressed the reform of Vatican media and finances.

The council of nine cardinals instituted by Pope Francis shortly after his election to assist him in Church governance and reform met for the 10th time this week, gathering in the Vatican for a June 8-10 round of meetings.

In addition to discussing the proposals regarding the abuse of office by a bishop in handling cases of clerical sex abuse, the council also discussed the establishment of a new Vatican department integrating the Vatican’s various media outlets.

Details of the cardinals’ discussion were presented by Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, during a June 10 briefing with journalists.

On the first day of the meetings, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, presented a report drafted by the commission detailing a set of four new proposals on how to handle allegations of bishops mishandling abuse cases.

Included in the report was also a proposal for how to handle allegations of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.


Bishop Accountability Proposals

The first proposal on bishop accountability highlighted the necessity of receiving and investigating all complaints of the mishandling of abuse cases by the proper Vatican congregation. Competence for this task belongs to the Congregations for Bishops, Evangelization of Peoples or of Oriental Churches.

A second proposal requested that competence be given to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge all bishops “with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors,” changing the way it has been done in the past.

The authorization of a new judicial section in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was also requested, as well as the appointment of stable personnel to work in the Apostolic Tribunal, the Holy See’s court system. The decision would then be put into place after consulting the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Gerhard Muller.

Within the report presented by Cardinal O’Malley, it was also asked that the Pope appoint a secretary to help the congregation’s prefect with the Apostolic Tribunal, who would be responsible for the new judicial section.

Personnel within the judiciary section will also assist the congregation’s prefect in the penal processes regarding the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy.

A five-year period to develop the proposals further and to evaluate their effectiveness was also asked.

Pope Francis approved all five proposals and authorized that sufficient resources be given in order to carry them out.


Media Reforms

On day two of the council of cardinal meetings, a presentation was given by Msgr. Dario Vigano, director of the Vatican Television Center and president of the commission for the media established by Pope Francis in April.

Msgr. Vigano presented a new draft of media reform based on previous reports given by McKinsey and Co. — the U.S.-based consultancy hired by the Vatican in 2013 to assist in revamping their media operations — as well as other past media commissions.

Set to be carried out over a period of four years, the reform calls for the gradual integration of the Vatican’s communications institutions, including the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center (CTV), L’Osservatore Romano, the photo service, the Vatican Publishing House, the Vatican Press and the Vatican Internet Service blog.

The draft presented by Msgr. Vigano ensures the protection of all staff employed by these institutions.

In the coming months, the new department will be established and named, and the necessary appointments will be made. Until then, the commission for media will continue its work in this area.

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, also gave a presentation during the meetings, updating the group on information regarding the Vatican’s financial reforms, such as the appointment of a new auditor general, as well as the recent approval of the new statutes of the Vatican Pension Fund.

The cardinal also revealed three new working groups in the Council for the Economy dedicated to the analysis of revenue and investment, the management of human resources and the study of existing IT systems.

The next round of meetings is scheduled to take place Sept. 14-16.