May 23, 2019 — “The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective measures that involve everyone in the Church.” Last May 9, Pope Francis turned words into more concrete actions by publishing the “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” Motu Proprio.
New Norms for the Entire Church
The procedures detailed in the Motu proprio are universally applicable to “prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful,” and to protect minors and vulnerable persons. So what are some of these new norms?
First, they seek to put an end to the culture of secrecy. “Whenever a cleric or a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life or of a Society of Apostolic Life notice an act of sexual abuse or covering up of such abuse, that person is now “obliged to report promptly the fact.”?
Then, there is a need to set up, within a year, “one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for the submission of reports, including through the institution of a specific ecclesiastical office.”?
Finally, a clear procedure in the event that the report concerns a bishop, with investigations to be concluded within 90 days. “With this document,” explains the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Ouellet, “we are not asking for anything more than what our priests have requested for years. This fact touches upon a subject which is a top priority for the Pope: not only must there not be any clericalism, but also no ‘elitism’ among us.”
According to Mgr Patrick Valdrini, with this Motu Proprio, the responsibility of the ordained members of the Church regarding sexual abuse is no longer just a moral one but a legal one. He feels it is a “beautiful text, it is truthful, it asks all those who read it to carefully become aware of their responsibilities, including from a legal standpoint. I believe it can certainly be quoted as a model of definition for the duties and rights of persons.”
Canadian Jesuits Begin Process of Conversion
The Jesuits of Canada are already amending their provincial policy to respond to the issue of abuse within the Church. And they have published a document on the subject, inviting the Province to reflection and deep ecclesial conversion. This reflection document highlighted several elements that were instrumentalized by the Motu Proprio, such as the need to entrench “the culture of transparency to fight abuse,” the battle against clericalism and consultation with lay experts.
According to Father Provincial Erik Oland, the document released by the Jesuits is important in order to enable “local Jesuit communities and works engage in a process of spiritual conversation that explores some causes of this crisis; also to help them rediscover basic tools of Ignatian discernment, to choose and implement gospel-inspired response that encourages the ecclesial conversion called for by Pope Francis.”
Drawing extensively from the Spiritual Exercises, this document attempts to identify paths for healing in order to make this ecclesial conversion possible. Focusing its approach on welcoming and listening to victims, it calls for the responsibility and solidarity of all the baptized towards those whose human dignity has been shattered by the members of the Church.
The document also proposes ways out of the structural sins that made these abuses possible. And it advocates for the equality of all the baptized, for a better integration of the lay people into the decision-making bodies of the Church and for the development of a mature and an adult faith among all members of the Church. All this in order to limit the excesses of power that too often arise "behind" sexual abuse.