No Picture
News Briefs

Pope Francis extends ‘Vos estis’ decree to counter both lay and clerical abuse

March 25, 2023 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis speaks at the general audience in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall on Feb. 22, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Mar 25, 2023 / 08:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis permanently decreed Saturday an updated version of Vos estis lux mundi, his landmark legislation to counter sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. 

The decree promulgated March 25 extends the Church’s norms for handling of abuse to cover lay leaders of international associations of the faithful recognized by the Vatican. 

Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”) reaffirms an obligation to report cases of “vulnerable adult” victims of abuse, including violence against religious women by clerics and cases of harassment of adult seminarians or novices by a superior.

It also includes protections for people who witness acts of abuse, in addition to those who submit reports of alleged abuse, stipulating that no “obligation of silence” may be imposed on those who report, witness, or are victims of abuse.

The new norms will go into force on April 30 and replace the pope’s previous provisional version of Vos estis lux mundi published nearly four years ago.

The norms regard what are called, in canon law, “delicts against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue,” consisting of sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority, and the production or possession of child pornography.

In the apostolic letter signed on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis wrote that it is “good that procedures are universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful.”

The pope said that the updated version of the norms takes into account the comments he received from bishops’ conferences and the Roman Curia on Vos estis lux mundi since it was published.

Pope Francis first promulgated Vos estis lux mundi in May 2019 on an experimental basis for a period of three years. 

The norms for the Church’s handling of sex abuse placed seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the misuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The decree also established obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, required that every diocese had a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

According to the law, the metropolitan archbishop conducts the investigation into a suffragan bishop with a mandate from the Holy See. The metropolitan is required to send reports to the Holy See on the progress of the investigation on a strict timeline.

The metropolitan archbishop may use the assistance of qualified lay people in carrying out the investigation, though it is primarily his responsibility, the norms state. Bishops’ conferences may establish funds to support these investigations.

Since the pope first promulgated Vos estis lux mundi, a number of bishops have been investigated and sanctioned under the norms for mishandling of abuse cases, including U.S. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, and several Catholic bishops in Poland.

Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was cleared after a Vos estis lux mundi investigation found no “semblance of truth” in the allegations of abuse. 

Holding leaders accountable

The new norms call for the presumption of innocence of all those who are under investigation and to safeguard “the legitimate protection of the good name and privacy of all persons involved, as well as the confidentiality of personal data.”

The updated version also requires that dioceses and eparchies must have an office or organization that is easily accessible to the public to receive reports of abuse, which include not only abuse of children and vulnerable adults but also covers sexual violence and harassment resulting from the abuse of authority. 

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Legislative Texts, explained that the latest version of Vos estis lux mundi “takes up what has already been established by the new penal law canon law, in force since December 2021, and identifies them in minors, in those who habitually have an imperfect use of reason, and in vulnerable adults to whom the law ensures particular protection.”

“I believe this new norm, wanted by the pope, demonstrates the particular attention that the Church reserves for the weakest and most defenseless people, whose freedom and dignity must be respected and protected by all, punishing their violation in an exemplary way,” Iannone said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, also had high praise for the permanent application of Vos estis lux mundi.

“I think that this document is a clear indication that the Holy Father is saying that people in authority in the Church are going to be held responsible for how they handle [abuse],” Cupich said in an interview with Vatican News published March 25.

“So, it’s a clear indication that the Holy Father is going to hold people responsible, not only those who have committed abuse, but those in authority who have responsibility for handling them in a way that protects victims and gives justice to victims.”

Cardinal Charles Scicluna, the adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the pope’s official confirmation of Vos estis lux mundi introduces new elements “in the history of Canon Law, such as the criminal relevance of the abuse of a vulnerable adult.”

“Among the changes is a further clarification of who the victims of abuse are. Previously, we spoke of minors and vulnerable persons, now we also speak of ‘vulnerable adults’ and ‘persons who habitually have an imperfect use of reason,’” Scicluna said.

He added: “This law concerns the future and makes it very clear that when it comes to an allegation against a lay person in the leadership of an international association, reference must be made to this particular law which has become universal.”

In the pope’s apostolic letter, Francis underlined that “crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual harm to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.”

“In order for these phenomena, in all their forms, [to] never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission,” Pope Francis said.


No Picture
News Briefs

‘Eucharistic consistency’: What the US bishops will discuss at their meeting next week

June 7, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Priest gives communion on the feast of the Holy Family in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 27, 2015. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2021 / 20:01 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops next week will deliberate and vote on whether to draft a teaching document on the Eucharist – despite the recent request of some bishops to delay such a discussion.

At the bishops’ virtual spring meeting scheduled for June 16-18, one agenda item that has received scrutiny is consideration of “Eucharistic consistency.” The agenda item is a “proposal to draft a formal statement” on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” The proposal comes from the bishops’ doctrine committee.

In a May 22 memo to the U.S. bishops, the president of the conference – Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles – explained that the proposal for such a document came from the doctrine committee. The committee followed the administrative procedures for securing an agenda item on the matter, he said.

Further, the proposed outline of the document “reflects recent guidance from the Holy See,” Archbishop Gomez said, referring to a May 7 letter from the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, to Gomez and, by extension, the U.S. bishops.

Gomez added that “the focus of this proposed teaching document is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives.”

The conference will not be voting on any final text of a document, but simply on whether to begin drafting a document, he said. If the bishops approve the motion, they will still have the opportunity to deliberate and amend the document when presented in final form at a future meeting.

In its proposal, the bishops’ doctrine committee explained the two-fold need for a teaching document on the Eucharist.

First, the bishops’ three-year strategic plan – approved in November 2020 – has a Eucharistic title, “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ, Source of Our Healing and Hope.” Second, a special working group of the bishops – convened in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency – recommended a teaching document on “Eucharistic consistency.”

That term has its roots in the 2007 closing document of the Aparecida conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops – a document which then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had a hand in developing. Used in the document, the term refers to the need for Catholic leaders and legislators to defend life and the family against grave evils such as abortion and euthanasia.

Making specific reference to “legislators, heads of government, and health professionals,” the document states, “We must adhere to ‘eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.”

Although individual U.S. bishops have talked about the matter of Communion for pro-abortion politicians in recent months – given that President Biden is Catholic and supports taxpayer-funded abortion – the bishops’ Eucharistic document would be “addressed to all Catholics.”

“In light of recent surveys, it is clear that there is a lack of understanding among many Catholics about the nature and meaning of the Eucharist,” the doctrine committee’s proposal stated.

In 2019, a Pew Research report found that fewer than one-third of Catholics (31%) surveyed believed in the Real Presence, and more than two-thirds (69%) believed the Eucharist to be merely a symbol. Several bishops at the time, citing the survey, emphasized the need for catechesis on the Eucharist.

A proposed outline of the Eucharistic document reveals a comprehensive catechesis on the Eucharist, covering both the sacrament itself and how Catholics must live in accord with the Commandments in their daily lives.

The outline covers teachings such as the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, a “recovery of understanding the Eucharist as sacrifice,” “the importance of Sunday as a day of obligation,” the need for beautiful liturgies, Catholics living as a “Eucharistic people” in daily life, the Eucharist as a “call to conversion,” and the importance of practicing the works of mercy.

The third part of the document also includes a section on “Eucharistic consistency,” and “the nature of eucharistic communion and the problem of serious sin.” It cites the teaching of St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, “A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Some bishops had recently moved to delay the discussion on the Eucharist, citing a Vatican letter to argue against a virtual discussion of such a serious topic.

Archbishop Gomez had written to the Vatican in March, informing them of the plans for the spring meeting. On May 7, Cardinal Ladaria responded to Gomez, addressing the topic of Communion for public officials who support permissive legislation on grave evils such as abortion.

If the bishops were to issue any “national policy” on Communion in these situations, he said, they would first need “serene” dialogue among themselves to ensure unity on Church teaching. Then individual bishops should dialogue with the Catholic politicians in their jurisdictions, to better understand their positions and their “comprehension of Catholic teaching.”

Only after that, he said, should the bishops discern how best to move forward on the matter. Any action they take should ensure consensus, respect the authority of individual bishops in their own dioceses, be framed within the broader context of general worthiness to receive Communion among all Catholics, and must not appear to list abortion or euthanasia as the only grave moral issues, he said.

After the Vatican sent its letter to the bishops, Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago led a letter by some bishops to Gomez, asking that the planned discussion on the Eucharist be delayed. The gravity of the issue necessitated an in-person discourse, Cupich argued, and should first be addressed by provinces or regional groups of bishops before the entire conference deliberated on it.

Gomez, in his May 22 memo, said that the discussion will take place as planned at next week’s meeting. Such a motion is in line with the administrative procedures of the conference and the requests in Cardinal Ladaria’s letter, he said.