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Pope Increases Lay Leaders’ Responsibility in Sexual Abuse Law

Pope Increases Lay Leaders’ Responsibility in Sexual Abuse Law

Pope Francis has expanded and made permanent a church law 2019 which seeks to hold senior religious leaders, church officials and now lay Catholic leaders accountable if they commit or cover up instances of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

Perhaps the most important element of the law is its impact on the “lay faithful” who lead international religious movements recognized by the Holy See. They will now be responsible for abusive acts committed within their movements while performing their duties. This was a reaction to cases of lay leaders who allowed the abuse of the faithful under their spiritual care or jurisdiction. The law, which takes effect April 30, also requires church authorities in the location where abuses may have occurred to conduct investigations.

Despite some opposition in the Vatican, the rules also explicitly expand the definition of adult victims who can be considered vulnerable. While the previous law only considered vulnerable people who are “habitually” disabled, the updated version includes “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental impairment, or deprivation of personal liberty who, in fact, even occasionally limits his abilities. to resist.

The law also sanctions cases of abuse or violence against nuns such as nuns and against seminarians by clerics.

The rules come at a time when the scourge of abuse — while still devastating to the Roman Catholic Church — no longer seems as direct a threat to Francis’ pontificate as it did in 2019. At the time, amid decades of cover-up in the United States and the pope’s own rejection of valid claims made more recently by victims of church abuse in Chile, Francis passed a then-temporary law to establish clear rules for the investigation of complicit bishops and other church officials. Victims of abuse saw it as a substantial step forward but criticized the way the law was applied, particularly in countries where clerics doubted there was a problem of abuse. abuse.

With the original 2019 decree, Francis attempted to settle the longstanding controversy over how to investigate bishops accused of abuse or cover-up. The decree authorized archbishops who presided over geographic regions to handle charges against bishops in their regions. Leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had proposed a different structure, in which panels including lay experts would consider the charges against the bishops.

But the The Vatican blocked the American bishops from voting on this proposal. As in many cases, including the Vatican’s opposition to the German Church’s desire to bless same-sex unions, Francis prefers that the whole Church act together to avoid fragmentation. The new law specifies that qualified lay experts may be called upon to participate in investigations, but that their presence is not compulsory.

Vatican officials said the new law was more inclusive and allowed the church to build capacity to better respond to victim reporting. Instead of maintaining a vague system for reporting possible abuse, it now requires local churches to operate an “organization or office” for potential victims to file complaints. It also clarifies that the church must refrain from trying to muzzle not only those who claim to have been victims of abuse, but also any witnesses.

But advocates for victims and greater accountability for bishops said the changes were far from enough.

“Today’s revision makes some modest changes, some of which are welcome. It is good that it clarifies that the abuse of vulnerable adults is a crime under canon law and that lay leaders of religious associations may also be subject to punishment,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the advocacy group., in a statement. “But that policy needed a major overhaul, not a few tweaks.”

She argued that he kept bishops in control of investigating and adjudicating allegations against other bishops, failed to meet public reporting requirements, and required clerics to report abuses to civil authorities only if the local law required it.

“Today’s long-awaited update to the Pope’s key anti-abuse law is a great disappointment,” Ms Barrett Doyle said.

And on Saturday, the church’s woes over sexual abuse continued.

Francis on Saturday accepted a resignation request from Franz-Josef Bode, bishop of Osnabrück, Germany, who asked to resign over mistakes he made in handling sexual abuse cases.

He explained that a report on abuses by clergy in the diocese exposed his mistakes in September. He acknowledged his responsibility saying, “Today I can only ask for forgiveness again from all those affected.”

Procedural updates in the new version align the 2019 law with standards for the protection of minors. It reaffirms that minors are under the age of 18 and maintains the ban on the trafficking and use of pornography that exploits minors or people without full capacity for reason. Any abuse of minors must be “promptly” communicated to the cleric responsible for the area, and if it is the responsible bishop, then a pontifical representative, or ambassador, in the area must be notified.

The new law reaffirms a commitment to a “presumption of innocence” for all accused officials and clerics and does not require clerics to report the charges to civil authorities. The Vatican has long argued that in some countries, reporting claims to law enforcement could result in ostracism for victims and potentially a death sentence for the accused. Some victims’ groups see this as an excuse to avoid greater liability.

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