Holding leaders accountable
The new norms call for the presumption of innocence of all those who are under investigation and to safeguard “the legitimate protection of the good name and privacy of all persons involved, as well as the confidentiality of personal data.”
The updated version also requires that dioceses and eparchies must have an office or organization that is easily accessible to the public to receive reports of abuse, which include not only abuse of children and vulnerable adults but also covers sexual violence and harassment resulting from the abuse of authority.
Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Legislative Texts, explained that the latest version of Vos estis lux mundi “takes up what has already been established by the new penal law canon law, in force since December 2021, and identifies them in minors, in those who habitually have an imperfect use of reason, and in vulnerable adults to whom the law ensures particular protection.”
“I believe this new norm, wanted by the pope, demonstrates the particular attention that the Church reserves for the weakest and most defenseless people, whose freedom and dignity must be respected and protected by all, punishing their violation in an exemplary way,” Iannone said.
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Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, also had high praise for the permanent application of Vos estis lux mundi.
“I think that this document is a clear indication that the Holy Father is saying that people in authority in the Church are going to be held responsible for how they handle [abuse],” Cupich said in an interview with Vatican News published March 25.
“So, it's a clear indication that the Holy Father is going to hold people responsible, not only those who have committed abuse, but those in authority who have responsibility for handling them in a way that protects victims and gives justice to victims.”
Cardinal Charles Scicluna, the adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the pope’s official confirmation of Vos estis lux mundi introduces new elements “in the history of Canon Law, such as the criminal relevance of the abuse of a vulnerable adult.”
“Among the changes is a further clarification of who the victims of abuse are. Previously, we spoke of minors and vulnerable persons, now we also speak of 'vulnerable adults' and 'persons who habitually have an imperfect use of reason,’” Scicluna said.
He added: “This law concerns the future and makes it very clear that when it comes to an allegation against a lay person in the leadership of an international association, reference must be made to this particular law which has become universal.”
In the pope’s apostolic letter, Francis underlined that “crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual harm to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.”
“In order for these phenomena, in all their forms, [to] 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,” Pope Francis said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.