Scepticism over pope’s decree
New law illustrates a zero-tolerance approach to anyone in the church who abuses children
Apapal decree released yesterday says bishops found to be “negligent” when dealing with cases of sexual abuse will be investigated and could be removed from office. Pope Francis has pledged zero tolerance of anyone in the church who abuses children, and likened such abuse to a “satanic mass”. In 2014, he established a Vatican commission to set best practices to root out abuse in parishes.
With the decree, he puts into action what he promised last year when he approved a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up or failing to prevent abuse of minors.
Victims’ groups have repeatedly demanded that the Catholic Church do more to make bishops accountable for abuse in their dioceses, even if they were not directly responsible for it.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, remained sceptical about the church’s response.
“Instead of just sacking bad bishops, or turning over abuse records to law enforcement, the Vatican is setting up yet another untested, internal church ‘process’ to purportedly deal with bishops who ignore or conceal child sex crimes,” he said. “A ‘process’ is helpful only if it’s used often enough to deter wrongdoing. We doubt this one will.”
The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked over the past 15 years by scandals concerning priests who sexually abused children and were transferred from parish to parish instead of being turned over to authorities and defrocked. In some developed countries, particularly in the US, the church has paid tens of millions of dollars in settlements.
While a bishop can already lose his job under the existing canonical code for any “grave reasons”, the pope said he wanted to specify with the decree that such reasons included instances where bishops fail to tackle abuse cases adequately.
Bishops “must be particularly diligent in protecting those who are the weakest among the people entrusted to them,” the pope said in the decree.
He said a bishop could be removed from office if he has, “through negligence, executed or omitted acts that caused serious harm to others”, be it physical, moral, spiritual or financial.
Any removal decision has to be approved by the pope, who will be assisted by a group of legal advisers.
TURNING THE TIDE Pope Francis