Pope Francis revised Church policy on sexual abuse and how to inform the world about it five years after the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.
The document was a “motu proprio,” meaning the pontiff wrote it on his own initiative. On Friday, the Italian version was released, but it didn’t generate as much buzz as other major Vatican documents.
In 2019, Pope Francis revealed a “experimental” set of guidelines for how the public should be informed of sexual abuse instances within the Catholic Church. Vos estis lux mundi is the motto by which one should live. Victims of sexual assault in the church said the recommendations weren’t adequate even back then.
People who have experienced sexual assault say not much has altered despite the Pope having a four-day conference on the topic later in 2019. They also claim that “vulnerable adults” have not benefited from the “vos estis” alert system. Experts in canon law say the new legislation allows judges discretion in applying the law. Is it true that “vulnerable” women are the ones who give pastors and pupils control over their spiritual lives? It turns out that Christian organizations like Opus Dei and Regnum Christi are fair game for the new legislation as well. Regnum Christi and Opus Dei have both run into problems recently due to the actions of their respective leaders.
The Vatican published the final, updated form on Friday. It assumes that everyone is innocent and seeks a compromise between “zero tolerance” and an equitable implementation of the law. This is in reaction to the media’s unjust treatment of Cardinal George Pell, who was exonerated by the High Court but still faced public humiliation and incarceration.
The Daily Wire posed this question to Michael J. Mazza, a canon litigator and graduate of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross who represents victims of clergy or layperson sexual assault. Mazza, in his work “The Right of a Cleric to Bona Fama,” stressed the need for consistent and proper application of the legal system.
I’m relieved that people’s right to private and presumption of innocence are safeguarded by Articles 5:2 and 13:7. The evidence is in the bread, according to an email sent by Mazza on Sunday. Whether or not the terrible but widespread practice of disclosing the identities of “credibly accused” clergymen in the United States prior to their trials will be altered by this clear guidance from the Holy See is yet to be seen. This may be done with the best of motives in the name of “transparency,” but it can have devastating effects on the reputations of religious leaders who are falsely charged.
The notorious ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been involved in multiple cases that demonstrate how abuse cases can go unnoticed or even be covered up for decades after they have been reported to Church authorities, and the famous modern artist Fr. Marko Rupnik from Slovakia is said to have used the Sacraments to seduce religious nuns. Mazza brings up a major issue with the new regulations regarding the timeliness of various tasks. As VELM “sets specific timelines,” it continues to pique Mazza’s interest. Ministers and clerics have noted that while bishops’ regulations can be useful, they are not universal. The administration obviously has no concept of the term “dual rules.”
It appears that the Pope’s new regulations apply to non-confessional discussions as well. According to Mazza, there is a “small but maybe important change” to the new VELM’s filing guidelines.Anything discussed “in the internal forum” with a priest is protected from disclosure. (i.e., beyond the seal of the confessional, but no longer explicitly referred to canon 1548 2).
When it comes to sexual offenses, however, it appears that the Pope is emphasizing the primacy of civil law over church law. A lot of problems could arise if civil law is openly against the Catholic Church, but at first glance this seems like a decent plan. We won’t know the complete impacts for months, if not years, as is typical in these antinomian times. So, we won’t know if the law is always followed, or if it’s only followed when it’s convenient for some priests and legislators. (or, perhaps even more directly, their attorneys).