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Pope issues updated ‘Vos Estis’ text for handling abuse cases

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has updated the procedures for investigating allegations of sexual abuse or the cover up of abuse, specifying that the leaders of Vatican-recognized international Catholic lay associations and movements have the same responsibilities over their members that a bishop has over the priests of his diocese.

The updated version of “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (You are the light of the world), published March 25, also expanded the categories of victims covered by the regulations to include vulnerable adults.

The original text spoke of the crime of “sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person.” The updated text read, “a crime against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue committed with a minor, or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason, or with a vulnerable adult.”

“Anything that expands the categories of those who should be protected is to be welcomed,” Oblate Father Andrew Small, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said March 25.

Father Small also pointed to the updated document’s insistence that not only must dioceses and bishops’ conferences have a “system” for reporting abuse or its cover up, they also must have “organisms or offices easily accessible to the public” to accept reports.

Making the procedures “well known and publicly accessible is part of justice,” he said.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Legislative Texts, said the updated document was based on four years of experience operating under the previous version, but the update also was needed to incorporate changes Pope Francis made in 2021 to the Code of Canon Law’s “Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church.”

The new rules go into effect April 30.

Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said in a statement that with the updated text, “the Church’s ongoing work of preventing sexual abuse by ministers of the Church received a further boost.”

Updating the norms, “Pope Francis has reconfirmed the serious responsibilities on bishops and others in leadership positions to ensure robust safeguarding policies and procedures are in place and are effective,” the cardinal said.

One thing the updated version did not do, however, was provide mandatory and explicit steps for revealing publicly when a bishop has been asked to or forced to resign because of abuse or covering up abuse allegations.

Many Catholics, including bishops, have called for such public notification after news reports revealed that a bishop who “resigned” had been sanctioned by the Vatican.

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