2015-06-10 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has created a new Vatican tribunal section to hear cases of bishops who fail to protect children from sexually abusive priests. The head of the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, made the announcement during a briefing on the work of the Council of nine cardinals which met with Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence from Monday June 8th to Wednesday June 10th. Philippa Hitchen has the details:
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors presented a five point plan to the Pope and his closest advisors at this week’s meeting, including the establishment of a “new judicial section” to examine all cases of bishops accused of abusing their office and failing to report crimes committed by priests in their care. The new office will be set up within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which will be mandated to judge all such cases connected to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
Fr Lombardi said Pope Francis will appoint a Secretary and some permanent staff for the new department, which will have a five year period to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of these new procedures. The move marks an important step in the ongoing process to hold Church leaders accountable for the actions of abusive priests – something that abuse survivors have insisted is essential to both the healing and prevention efforts..
Pope creates tribunal for bishops in sex-abuse cases
The New York Post
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has created a new Vatican tribunal section to hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests, the biggest step the Holy See has taken yet to hold bishops accountable.
For years, the Vatican has been criticized by victims, advocacy groups and others for having failed to ever punish or forcibly remove a bishop who covered up for clergy who raped or molested children. In April, Francis accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who had been convicted of failing to report a suspected child abuser, but that wasn’t a forced removal.
The Vatican said Wednesday that Francis had approved proposals made by his sexual abuse advisory board. They create a mechanism by which the Vatican can receive and examine complaints of abuse of office by bishops and adjudicate them.
A special new judicial section will be created inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors,” a Vatican statement said.
The Congregation currently reviews all cases of priests who abuse minors.
The Vatican said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission, presented the proposals to Francis’ cardinal advisers, who have been meeting this week. The panel approved the measures, as did Francis, who authorized funding for full-time personnel to staff the new office, the Vatican said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said this means there is now a specific process by which the Vatican can deal with bishops who are negligent in handling cases of abuse in their territories.
Canon law already does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, but the Vatican was never known to have meted out punishment for a bishop who covered up for an abuser.
Now, with these proposals, “the process is defined,” Lombardi said.
Credit Claudio Peri/European Pressphoto Agency
ROME — Pope Francis has approved the creation of a Vatican tribunal for judging bishops accused of covering up or failing to act in cases of child sexual abuse by priests, an unprecedented step long demanded by victims in the more than three decades that the Roman Catholic Church has publicly dealt with the abuse scandal.
Bishops, regarded as “princes of the church” and sovereign in their dioceses, until now could be disciplined only directly by the pope, but until Francis no pope has publicly confronted or demoted even those bishops accused of gross negligence. Under Francis’ predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and before him, John Paul II, the Vatican defrocked about 850 priests for sexual abuse and penalized about 2,500 more, but there was no similar judicial mechanism for bishops.
Advocates for abuse victims had a range of reactions, from skepticism to watchful optimism.
Francis’ move could affect bishops around the world as awareness of sexual abuse and calls for accountability spread, even to the church in Latin America, Asia and Africa, where the topic is still largely taboo.
It will also bring new scrutiny to a number of bishops currently under investigation over accusations that they covered up abuse by priests; they include Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis and St. Paul, whose archdiocese was indicted last week; Cardinal George Pell of Australia, currently the head of the Vatican’s finances, recently called to testify by a government commission in Australia; and Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, who was convicted on a misdemeanor charge for negligently handling a case involving a pedophile priest. He resigned his post recently, but remains a bishop.
A mechanism for holding bishops accountable has been a high priority of the 17-member papal commission on abuse that was also created by Francis. That commission includes two abuse survivors and many laypeople, and is headed by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, who was dispatched to Boston at the height of the abuse scandal there, and two other dioceses before that, to clean up scandals left behind by previous bishops.
There are many thus far unanswered question as to how the tribunal will conduct its inquiries and proceedings, including what punishments it would impose on bishops found guilty.
Peter Saunders, one of the two abuse survivors on the commission, said he was pleased that Francis seemed to be listening to their recommendations, but, he said, “When allegations against senior clergy are brought to the tribunal, we’ll see whether it’s working.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in St. Louis for their semiannual meeting, said they had no advance knowledge of the creation of a new tribunal. (Among those attending the meeting was Archbishop Nienstedt.) In interviews, bishops said that they welcomed the step as a move toward transparency, and would cooperate fully.
“It’s something new and necessary in the church because it does provide a standard and a policy that holds bishops accountable in the way we’ve held our clergy accountable,” said Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vt., who served as a spokesman in the archdiocese of Boston at the height of the scandals there in the early to mid-2000s.
The five-point plan announced on Wednesday says the tribunal will be housed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that polices adherence to church doctrine and that already handles the cases of priests accused of abuse.
The pontiff will choose a secretary, and additional permanent staff members will be hired for the tribunal, said the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. The procedures will be re-evaluated in five years, he said.
Father Lombardi said the tribunal would also examine some of the abuse cases perpetrated by clergy members that were “still pending” at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. “They are still very numerous and have accumulated,” he said. The tribunal would “accelerate” matters, he said, noting that money had been set aside to bolster the new section.
Father Lombardi said that the tribunal’s responsibility for judging bishops would include questions of omission. “What one should have done and didn’t do,” he said. “This is another kind of responsibility, and shortcoming, and has to be judged in an appropriate way with appropriate rules.”
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a support and advocacy group for victims, said in a statement that she suspected that the new panel “won’t make a difference” because it relies on church officials to judge other church officials. She said that a more effective move would be for the church to support the reform of secular laws to strengthen the prosecution of those responsible for abuse.
Voice of the Faithful, a church reform movement first created to respond to the abuse scandal, said, “These steps are the most promising the Vatican has yet taken.” Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a Boston-based group that documents cases of sexual abuse by priests, called the development encouraging because it “provides a structure, personnel, a budget and a brief for actually acting.”
In the United States, where the church has been struggling with the question of sexual abuse by members of the clergy since the first case of serial abuse first became public in Louisiana in the 1980s, the problem remains far from resolved.
Last year, there were 37 allegations of sexual abuse made to the church by those who were currently minors, and another 600 “historical allegations” made by those who are older, said Francesco C. Cesareo, chairman of the United States bishops National Review Board on sexual abuse, in his report to the bishops on Wednesday. Six of the current allegations made last year were substantiated, and other cases were still open he said.
Given that, he said, “It should not be concluded that the sexual abuse of minors is a problem of the past that has already been addressed.”
“This is the missing link in the church’s response to the abuse crisis,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of the Jesuit weekly magazine America. “It is a long overdue and delayed response to this problem, but it’s an absolutely indispensable step. This is what everyone was waiting for and all were calling for in all quarters of the church.”
Father Martin suggested that action was slow to come because there was a “lingering reluctance to hold bishops accountable if they themselves had not committed the abuse” and because — after the Second Vatican Council shifted greater power from Rome to the bishops — of “the traditional authority of bishops over their dioceses.”