For years, we’ve heard the horror stories of abuse by men put in positions of moral authority and youth mentorship by the Vatican turning out to be some of the worst monsters imaginable. Using their influence and status as paternal figures in their communities, priests in astonishing numbers have turned out to be pedophiles, luring their prey with fear of retribution from God himself.
What is as frightening are the allegations that the bishops who run many of the archdioceses where abuse was prevalent have done everything they can to cover up the scandal, up to and including transferring perpetrators to different churches with new pools of victims for them to choose from. The decisions made by those bishops have landed a few in hot water, with some being re-called to Vatican City to serve out their days in hiding.
Those days are over. Pope Francis has issued a “motu proprio,” a form of canon law, stating that bishops found to be aiding and abetting or covering for a priest who is guilty of these affronts to God and humanity will not be protected, supported and transferred; they will be fired. The Pope states in the law:
Bishops must undertake a particular diligence in protecting those who are the weakest among their flock.
Pope Francis also pointed out that current canon law allows for the removal of a bishop for “grave reasons,” but negligence wasn’t considered grave enough. He seemed to be affirming and addressing the skepticism of victim advocate groups who remain wary that the new decree will have any effect, considering popes have always had the authority to remove bishops but shied from using it. Their concerns are, of course, as valid as can be, but with this pope’s determination to make the crisis right after two decades of failure, hope is on the horizon.
The law does away with local tribunals as well, taking the fate of priests and bishops out of the hands of their immediate peers and handing it to a four-member panel at the Vatican that will now handle all cases of bishop negligence.
It may be a bit optimistic to think that the actions of Pope Francis will make a considerable difference, but considering the sideline stance his predecessors took, this change comes with what can be considered admirable intentions.
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