THE CRISIS CONTINUES

First Things | 4/1/2014 | Philip Lawler
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Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the new papal directive for handling sex abuse charges, takes a few steps toward reform within the Catholic Church. But the papal document—a motu proprio, carrying the force of canon law—falls well short of an adequate response to a burgeoning scandal.

Pope Francis’s directive requires that every Catholic diocese and eparchy provide a formal system for reporting and addressing abuse complaints. For Americans, already living under the “Dallas Charter” mechanisms set up more than a decade ago, the new rule will have no major practical effect. But in other countries, where whistle-blowers still face strong resistance, it is an important advance.

Motu - Proprio - Abuse - Victims - Others

The motu proprio also insists that abuse victims, and others lodging complaints, must be treated with respect and compassion and given the spiritual and material help they need. Too often, even after winning lawsuits, victims have been handed a check—without an apology—and sent on their way.

Best of all, Vos Estis recognizes that a cover-up compounds a crime. In fact, for the purposes of canon law, a cover-up of abuse charges now is a crime, and a complaint about a cover-up must be treated like a complaint about sexual abuse. Here, too, is a significant step in the right direction.

Bulk - Document - Question - Officials - Charges

However, the bulk of the papal document addresses a specialized question: How should Church officials respond to charges of misconduct lodged against a bishop? Here the pope fails to address the fundamental challenge to the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy. The new policies were obviously drawn up in response to the worldwide scandal that erupted last year with the revelations of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s chronic sexual misconduct. So perhaps the best way to illustrate their deficiencies would be to imagine how things might have developed if these policies had been in place in the late 1990s, when rumors...
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