In a new Motu proprio Francis establishes the obligation of priests and bishops to report allegations of abuse and any attempt to cover up cases of abuse. " The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful."
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - From June 1 all priests, religious men and women who learn of an abuse or a case of covering up an abuse, have "the obligation" to report it to the bishop or religious superior and all the dioceses also have the obligation to equip themselves with stable systems that are easily accessible to the public to present reports of abuses. These are two of the most significant changes in the legislation against sexual abuse introduced by Pope Francis with the Motu proprio "Vos estis lux mundi", "You are the light of the world".
"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. 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, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission". “Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future. This responsibility falls, above all, on the successors of the Apostles", that is, on the bishops and also on "all those who, in various ways, assume ministries in the Church, or profess the evangelical counsels, or are called to serve the Christian People. Therefore, it is good that procedures be universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful.”
Result of the meeting for the protection of minors convened by Francis in the Vatican last February, in which the presidents or representatives of all the episcopal conferences of the world participated - together with the heads of the Roman Curia - the papal document establishes the art. 1 that are sexual abuses “a) crimes against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue consisting of: i. in forcing someone, with violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or suffer sexual acts; ii. in performing sexual acts with a child or a vulnerable person; iii. In the production, exhibition, detention or distribution, also via computer, of child pornography material, as well as in the recruitment or induction of a child or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions ”. To these cases the "conduct" of bishops, priests and religious "consisting of actions or omissions aimed at interfering or eluding civil investigations or canonical, administrative or criminal investigations, against a cleric or a religious in this regard are equalized to the crimes referred to in letter a) of this paragraph ”.
In this regard, in an interview published in Vatican News and in "L’Osservatore Romano", Card. Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, explains that the provisions also concern "cases of abuse of religious by clerics, or abuse of seminarians or novices by their superiors".
The Cardinal then defines "no less important, it is having codified the procedure that calls bishops and religious superiors to account for their actions, not only in the case of abuses committed by them but also in the case of their omissions aimed at interfering or evade civil investigations or canonical, administrative or criminal investigations against a cleric or a religious who has abused. Finally, the norms provide for a closer collaboration between the Dicasteries: it is a sign of the need, on our part here in the Curia, not only to better serve the dioceses and religious institutes of the world, but to collaborate better with each other".
The Motu Proprio establishes under art. 2 that if clerics and religious have the obligation to report if they have "news or reasonable grounds to believe that one of the crimes has been committed" of abuse, "anyone can submit a report" to "one or more systems that are stable and easily accessible to the public ”to be created within a year. “Making a report pursuant to article 3 shall not constitute a violation of office confidentiality” and "an obligation to keep silent may not be imposed on any person with regard to the contents of his or her report". The report must be sent to the bishop and if it concerns cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and pontifical legates both to the Holy See and to the Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province in which the person indicated is domiciled (Article 6).
Article. 5 then provides for the commitment of the ecclesiastical authorities " that those who state that they have been harmed, together with their families, are to be treated with dignity and respect, and, in particular, are to be: a) welcomed, listened to and supported, including through provision of specific services; b) offered spiritual assistance; c) offered medical assistance, including therapeutic and psychological assistance, as required by the specific case.” “The good name and the privacy of the persons involved, as well as the confidentiality of their personal data, shall be protected ".
As for the investigation, art. 12 establishes that the Metropolitan, "once he has been appointed by the competent Dicastery and in compliance with the instructions received, either personally or through one or more suitable persons: a) collects relevant information regarding the facts; b) accesses the information and documents necessary for the purpose of the investigation kept in the archives of ecclesiastical offices; c) obtains the cooperation of other Ordinaries or Hierarchs whenever necessary; d) requests information from individuals and institutions, including civil institutions, that are able to provide useful elements for the investigation.” If then "it becomes necessary to hear a child or a vulnerable person, the Metropolitan adopts appropriate methods, which take their status into account".
The same article states that "the person under investigation enjoys the presumption of innocence."
In carrying out the investigation the metropolitan may use "qualified persons".
The results of the investigation are finally transmitted by the metropolitan to the competent Dicastery "together with his own votum on the results of the survey".
The Motu Proprio finally establishes the art. 10 that "These rules 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". (FP)