Bishops schedule vote on ‘motu proprio’ addressing abuse

Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) — The U.S. bishops scheduled a June 13 vote on a plan to implement the “motu proprio” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”) issued in May by Pope Francis to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

The “motu proprio” was one of the measures that came out of the Vatican’s February summit on clergy sexual abuse attended by the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences.

Directives for implementing the new juridical instrument in the U.S. church were formally presented to the bishops June 11, with a vote on the plan slated for June 13, the first and last days of their spring general assembly meeting in Baltimore.

“Vos Estis Lux Mundi” established “procedures for reporting complaints of sexual abuse of minors or of vulnerable persons by clerics or by members of institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life,” said Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, in introductory remarks preceding presentation of the proposed plan.

“The ‘motu proprio’ likewise holds church leaders accountable for actions or omissions relating to the handling of such reports,” he added.

The implementation plan, Bishop Deeley said, has five elements:
• “Provide for the utilization of a national third-party reporting system by which reports can be received and conveyed to (the) proper ecclesiastical authority.”
• “Underscore the requirement to provide pastoral care to persons who might have been harmed.”
• “Encourage the utilization of proven experts chosen from among the laity.”
• “Affirm the oversight responsibility of the metropolitan throughout the investigatory process.” In church parlance, a metropolitan is the archbishop in a province with other dioceses headed by bishops. There are 32 metropolitans in the U.S. church.
• “Recognize the competence of each ecclesiastical province to determine an appropriate means to allocate costs for the investigation of reports and the provision of pastoral care to victims/survivors.”

Bishop Deeley said the directives “are not intended to establish particular law for the United States.” The provisions in “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” itself took effect June 1 and will last for three years. The implementation plan itself also would be good for three years, subject to a later review by the bishops.

The “motu proprio” said bishops’ conferences need to establish a “public, stable and easily accessible” system for submitting abuse reports. The proposed implementation plan would urge provinces to publish information on this system broadly “in printed form, online and other media means.”

When an abuse report is made, the proposed plan said, “it is highly encouraged that the metropolitan avail himself of an investigator” from among a group previously identified to conduct an investigation. Such a list would include “persons expert in relevant fields, such as law enforcement, criminal investigation, civil law, canon law, psychology and social work,” it adds. “The appointed investigator can make use of other proven experts, who are likewise appointed by the metropolitan, chosen predominantly from among laypersons, who are called upon in view of the nature of the report and the expertise needed to examine it.”

The metropolitan should report any “conflict of interest or lack of impartiality” brought to his attention to the Vatican, including that of an investigator.

The proposed plan says, “Each province ought to determine the appropriate means by which it will establish a fund, should it choose to do so, or how it will otherwise allocate costs for the investigation of reports received and for the pastoral care of those who might have been harmed.”

A footnote in the proposed plan said that “in cases where the report concerns the metropolitan, or the metropolitan see is vacant,” the most senior bishop in that province would be expected to carry out the directives.