Vatican Issues Manual for Bishops on Handling Reports of Sexual Abuse of Minors

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at a Vatican press conference, Sept. 8, 2015. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued Thursday a manual to help bishops and dioceses follow Church procedure in respect to accusations of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

The vademecum, released July 16, is one of the last documents promised by the Vatican following its February 2019 abuse summit.

The handbook does not issue new norms or make alterations to current Church law, but is intended as a guide for bishops, dioceses, and religious communities on how to follow Church procedure in sex abuse cases.

Abuse of a minor by a cleric is considered by the Church to be a grave delict (graviora delicta), or crime. The disciplinary measures for grave delicts are the competence of the CDF.

According to the vademecum’s introduction, “the present manual is meant to serve as a handbook for those charged with ascertaining the truth in such criminal cases, leading them step-by-step from the notitia criminis (notice that a crime is alleged to have occurred) to the definitive conclusion of the case.”

The introduction states that use of the manual is encouraged “since a standardized praxis will contribute to a better administration of justice.”

Just under 20 pages, the handbook addresses topics such as: What must be done when information is received about possible abuse of a minor by a cleric; how to carry out a preliminary investigation; and how to inform and pass information to the CDF about the preliminary investigation.

It also covers what the CDF can be expected to do after receiving the information from the preliminary investigation, called “acts,” as well as listing the possible outcomes of a case.

CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer said July 16 that “the course of justice cannot alone exhaust the Church’s response, but it is necessary in order to come to the truth of the facts.”

He said the handbook was a “tool” and indicated that updates and adaptations should be expected as developments to canon law and new challenges require.

The vademecum makes clear that it does not replace the training and knowledge of canon lawyers and closes by stating that “only a profound knowledge of the law and its aims can render due service to truth and justice, which are especially to be sought in matters of graviora delicta by reason of the deep wounds they inflict upon ecclesial communion.”

The handbook references the Code of Canon Law, Substantive Norms, and procedural norms regarding crimes, as well as Vos estis lux mundi, which was promulgated by Pope Francis in 2019, and established the so-called “metropolitan model” for the investigation of accusations against bishops and their equivalents. 

The handbook also refers to the CDF’s document on procedure and praxis.

“It is hoped that this handbook will assist Dioceses, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Episcopal Conferences and the various ecclesiastical circumscriptions to better understand and implement the requirements of justice regarding a delictum gravius that constitutes for the whole Church a profound and painful wound that cries out for healing,” the manual states.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]