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Francis moves to make bishops accountable for abuse failings

04 June 2016 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Pope Francis has issued a new Church law spelling out that bishops can be removed from office if they fail to act over child sexual abuse. 

The move is an attempt to make bishops accountable for their handling of abusive priests with campaigners for victims complaining that members of the hierarchy operate without sufficient oversight. Under church rules bishops have untrammelled power in their dioceses and can only be removed by the Pope.

But in an apostolic letter issued today, Francis outlines a new process whereby the Vatican can investigate a bishop alleged to have been negligent on sexual abuse. 

A special panel of church lawyers - likely to be made up of cardinals and bishops - will then assist the Pope on the final decision over whether to sack a member of the hierarchy. 

The letter states that while canon law already allows bishops to be removed for “grave reasons” the Pope wanted to spell out what these entail. Among them, he writes, are “cases of sexual abuse committed on minors and vulnerable adult.” 

“The Diocesan Bishop or Eparch can be removed only if he has been objectively lacking in the diligence that is required by his pastoral office,” the letter states. “In the case of abuse of minors or vulnerable adults is sufficient that the lack of care be grave.”

Marie Collins, a prominent abuse campaigner who sits on a papal advisory safeguarding body, welcomed today’s move. She told the National Catholic Reporter that she hoped the new process “will succeed in bringing the accountability survivors have waited for so long.”

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, explained that the congregations responsible for investigating cases would be the ones for bishops, religious and evangelisation for peoples.

He pointed out, however, that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - which has beomce the clearing house for clergy sex abuse cases - would not be involved with the procedures as they involved “negligence of office” and not crimes of abuse .

Last year it was announced that the Pope had approved the creation of a new panel to judge bishops negligent in abuse cases - but this body has not been established.

 



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