(The Real Agenda News) Papal documents or encyclicals are exhortations that take long to show results and that are often difficult to assimilate, but the recently published document signed by Pope Francis seems to be as clear as water:
“The bishops acting negligently or who conceal information concerning sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults will be expelled from office.”
The Papal decree entitled “As a loving Mother” comes with decades of delay, but is of great importance because terrible experience shows that if it had not been for the silent complicity of the church hierarchy, they could have avoided the suffering of so many victims and the impunity of many culprits.
The decree, which came into effect on Sunday, reinforces the articles in which the possibility of expelling bishops from the church for “serious reasons” is now a possibility, though not a certainty.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio warns:
“With this document I intend to point out that the negligence of the bishops is included in the exercise of their duties, particularly in relation to cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”
The Law states in Article 193 that “no one can be removed from an office that he was conferred to for an indefinite period, unless there are “serious reasons”.
The Pope’s document, released on Saturday by the Vatican’s press office, states that among these serious reasons, the Pope intends to look into inaction by bishops or cardinals who “can be legitimately removed from office if they negligently, omitted acts that have caused harm to others.”
These reasons include damages that may affect individuals or the community itself, either in the form of “physical, moral, spiritual or patrimonial” prejudice.
Until now, bishops could be removed only if it was objectively demonstrated that they failed very serious responsibilities, but the Pope has now warned that, in the case of child abuse, “it is enough that the failure to act be considered serious”.
In cases where “serious indications” of negligent behavior are found, the competent congregations of the Roman authorities may initiate an investigation, previously notifying the subject, who will be granted the opportunity to defend himself.
Once a decision is reached and the suspension of a bishop is considered appropriate, the Congregation may choose, “based on the circumstances of the case,” whether to publish, “in the shortest possible time,” the decree of suspension or invite the bishop to resign.
The bishop will have 15 days to submit his resignation and if he does not do so within that period, the Congregation will then issue the decree of suspension.
In any case, the decision of the Congregation shall be submitted for the approval of the Pope who, before making a final decision, may convene a group of jurists.
Francis has said in the document that the Church loves all its children but that it also “heals and protects with a very particular care small and helpless people”, such as children or vulnerable adults.
A question that lingers regarding the Pope’s decision to prosecute negligent bishops is, what about the priests who actually commit the abuses? Prosecuting bishops who do not denounce abusive priests is a tiny step in the right direction, but not all bishops are aware of instances when priests commit abuses against children or vulnerable adults, are they?
Why doesn’t Francis adopt an equally strong resolution on priests’ abuses? Why doesn’t he modify existing law to prosecute those who commit the crimes as supposed to only the bishops who may or may not know about it?
In a sense, this change in the law is similar to punishing a jail guard for not realizing that a criminal is fleeing his prison cell, while not enforcing the law, the same law, against the inmate who tricks the guard in order to escape.
What good does it do to expel bishops if priests continue abusing children?