This unsigned editorial appeared online May 14 on the website of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the editorial board.
Much of the reporting surrounding Pope Francis’ “motu proprio,” on the pope’s own initiative, titled “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), has presented it as the final response to nearly a year of horrifying revelations concerning clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In particular, the procedures for the investigation of “delicts (crimes) against the Sixth Commandment” were specifically designed to address the actions of bishops (or their equivalent in religious orders and personal prelatures) and above.
The actions addressed include not only incidents of clerical sexual abuse itself but also “conduct carried out by (bishops and other members of the hierarchy), consisting of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations … against a cleric or a religious” accused of sexual abuse.
In releasing the “motu proprio,” Pope Francis thus closed one of the most gaping holes left by the U.S. bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
If regarded as a final response to the events of the last year, however, the “motu proprio” is likely to be seen by some as too little, too late. It’s not entirely clear the extent to which the procedures outlined in the new law would have prevented the decades-long abuse of power by the disgraced former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the revelation of which began last year’s summer of shame. For instance, the “motu proprio” is silent on the question of consensual sexual sins, and, as cases such as McCarrick’s show, “abuse of authority” can be somewhat hard to define when those involved are not minors.
Similarly, the procedures for reporting and investigating cases of clerical sexual abuse, particularly involving bishops or higher, place the metropolitan as the competent authority. That McCarrick, as both archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and Washington was the metropolitan underscores the challenges inherent in asking the hierarchy to investigate the hierarchy.
While the “motu proprio” requires that any reports concerning metropolitans “shall be forwarded to the Holy See,” by itself it cannot address the cultural circumstances that allowed McCarrick to act as he did for so many years with the knowledge (or, at the very least, the suspicion) of so many of his brother bishops.
“Vos estis lux mundi,” however, should not be seen as the end of a process of reform but the beginning. As the text notes, “The present norms are approved “ad experimentum” (on a trial basis) for three years.”
While one “motu proprio” cannot drive cultural change within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, it can contribute to the process. Since last summer, this editorial board consistently has called for both the U.S. bishops and the Vatican to take significant measures to address the issues raised by the McCarrick case and the issues left unaddressed by the charter.
“Vos estis lux mundi” is a good start. There are important signs of hope in this document as well. This editorial board consistently has called for greater involvement of the lay faithful in investigating cases of clerical sexual abuse and mishandling by the hierarchy, and Article 13 of the “motu proprio” allows for that possibility.
The next step will be taken at the June meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, where the bishops will consider how to implement the legislation in the United States.
We encourage them to expand the role of the lay faithful as much as canon law and the “motu proprio” allow, and to provide as much transparency as possible into the investigative process going forward. Doing so will go a long way toward addressing the legitimate concerns of the faithful — and restoring trust in the church.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicPhilly.com, Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: You want to save the world? Think small
NEXT: Let the people, in their states, decide on abortion
Share this story