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The Big Story: Vatican introduces new law on reporting abuse

Vatican's top abuse investigator Charles Scicluna (Getty Images)

Vos Estis is a "revolutionary" document.

What happened?

Whistleblowers will be protected and bishops given extra scrutiny under new laws promulgated by Pope Francis last Thursday. Vos estis lux mundi, a new motu proprio, requires all dioceses to have a confidential procedure for receiving allegations.

Priests and religious, it makes clear, are required by canon law to report bishops’ offences. These offences include the misuse of power to sexually coerce victims. Metropolitan bishops will investigate suffragan bishops.

What commentators said

In the New York Post, JD Flynn said the document contained important things. “It requires bishops to report the sexual misconduct of their colleagues, it protects whistleblowers inside the Church and it makes clear that bishops who neglect their civil or Church responsibilities to report or address abuse will be held accountable.” It also “recognises explicitly that imbalances of power can be exploited for sexual coercion”.

Yet vos estis does not include a proposal put forward by the US bishops to “put independent lay experts at the centre of investigations”. In the US, lay people have been involved since 2002. “The bishops know that such involvement has led to a cultural shift in the Church on child protection”, increasing safety, transparency and accountability. Such a reform would be harder in other countries. But US bishops can now decide to include lay people as investigators.

John Allen of Crux said that, for many, the key question was about the practicalities of how Vos estis will be applied. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, formerly the Vatican’s top prosecutor on abuse cases, implied as much, telling reporters that he hoped rank-and-file Catholics would feel able to “denounce” failures in dealing with abuse.

Meanwhile, vos estis only deals with crimes – for which, in the case of cover-ups, it is necessary to prove malice. This is notoriously difficult. “In other words,” Allen wrote, it “may not contribute much to what many observers regard as the single biggest piece of unfinished business from the abuse scandals.”