Vos estis lux mundi: You Are The Light Of The World, is the title of a motu proprio issued today by Pope Francis. With this document, the Holy Father demonstrates that he is taking decisive action to put in place universal norms to address the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and its cover up. Below is a brief summary of the significant points:
- All dioceses must have a public, accessible and reliable system for reporting: the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults; possession or distribution of child pornography; use of violence or intimidation (whether with minors or adults) to engage in sexual acts; and the cover-up of such conduct. Dioceses without a current system must establish one at the latest by June 1, 2020 and must, by that date, notify the appropriate pontifical representative that the system has been put in place.
- All clerics and members of religious orders (priests, deacons, brothers, sisters) and bishops (including Cardinals), whether of the Latin or Oriental Church, are required to report sexual abuse and any cover-up to Church authorities, including when committed by bishops or religious superiors.
- Reporters of sexual abuse are protected from prejudice, retaliation or discrimination for reports made in good faith.
- The reporting requirement does not change or interfere with any existing duty to report under local civil laws.
- After receiving the mandate, the Metropolitan archbishop, or whomever has been placed in charge of the investigation by the Holy See, must investigate allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up by bishops or supreme moderators in a timely and effective manner, with participation by lay experts provided for under these norms.
- The Roman Curia must act promptly with respect to the reports received.
Many people questioned what, if any concrete measures would be implemented following the February conference held in Rome. At that time, the Holy Father called for “concrete” measures to fight sexual abuse. After a first reading of Vos estis lux Mundi I am quite pleased not only with the speed in which the Holy See has responded following the February conference, but also with the specificity of these new norms.
Today’s Motu Proprio sends a clear message to the world, especially the members of the Church, that no matter one’s office in the Church, everyone will be held accountable for any misconduct with minors or vulnerable adults, as well as for the manner in which the Church (bishops especially) responds to victims.
We as Church in the United States are grateful for the clear guidance we have with the Charter For The Protection Of Children And Young People, and especially grateful for the good results it is yielding in reducing occurrences of abuse of minors. Today’s publication of “You are the light of the world” now gives clear and universal instruction for holding bishops accountable for their responsibility “to follow closely the path of the Divine Master.”
Pope Francis also points out another significant and necessary element in changing the culture of the Church. “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 actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission.”8