On the 2nd of February 2015 Pope Francis issued a Letter on the Protection of Minors. In his letter he states:
“At my meeting in July with persons who had suffered sexual abuse by priests, I was deeply moved by their witness to the depth of their sufferings and the strength of their faith. This experience reaffirmed my conviction that everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”
“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home. Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors.”
Pope Francis – Apostolic Letter on Safeguarding –May 2019
Pope Francis’ Motu proprio,” Vos estis lux mundi” establishes new procedural rules to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that Bishops and Religious superiors are held accountable for their actions. It establishes universal norms, which apply to the whole Catholic Church. Whilst the letter issued by the Pope is primarily about universal Church law, it affirms many of the practices which we are already observing in Ireland, particularly the need to report promptly all allegations to the statutory authorities and to fully respect and co-operate with State laws and investigations.
- Every Diocese is obliged to set up an “office” for reporting.
- Obligation on all Clerics and Religious to report promptly all allegations of abuse.
- The document covers not only violence and abuse against children and vulnerable adults but also sexual abuse and violence resulting from an abuse of authority.
- Dealing with cover-ups and those who hold positions of particular responsibility in the Church, and who, instead of pursuing abuses committed by others, have hidden them, and have protected alleged offenders instead of protecting the victims.
- The importance of protecting minors (anyone under 18) and vulnerable people. The definition of a “vulnerable person” is broadened to include “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want to otherwise resist the offense”.
- Protecting those who come forward to report abuse are also significant. Someone reporting abuse cannot be subjected to “prejudice, retaliation or discrimination” because of what they report.
- The Motu proprio regulates the investigation of Bishops, Cardinals, Religious Superiors and all those who lead a Diocese, or another particular Church, in various capacities and even temporarily. The rules apply not only in the case of these persons being investigated for having committed sexual abuse themselves, but also if they are accused of having “covered up”, or of failing to pursue abuses of which they were aware, and which it was their duty to address.
Pope Francis writes at the beginning of the document: “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”.