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Pope Francis Issues Global Mandatory Reporting Law for Sexual Abuse and Cover-up

The Holy Father’s motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” strengthens the Church’s response to abuse allegations and cover-up around the world

Chicago, IL (May 9, 2019) – As part of the commitment of the Catholic Church to protect minors and vulnerable people, the Holy Father has established a universal Church law by a motu proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi,” which creates new requirements for the reporting, handling and investigating sexual abuse and the mishandling of such misconduct, including cover-up, to and by Church authorities. This universal law goes into effect June 1, 2019 and includes measures already in use in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Vos estis lux mundi is among the concrete measures called for by the Holy Father at the February 2019 Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. The first was Pope Francis’ March 26 motu proprio and related documents, which made the reporting of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Vatican City State and the Roman Curia mandatory for all officials. Vos estis lux mundi extends that obligation worldwide. 

 “While this new law validates many of the procedures already in place in the Archdiocese of Chicago and in the United States, it provides a framework for the bishops in this country to adopt measures at our June meeting that will both implement the pope’s executive order and address the issue of holding everyone in the Church accountable,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago.

What are the provisions of this law?

  • This law requires Church leaders throughout the world to offer spiritual, medical and psychological support to victims and their families as appropriate. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Assistance Ministry has offered these services for nearly three decades.
  • Dioceses must establish publicly accessible systems for reporting sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, as well as for dealing with the mishandling of such misconduct, including cover-up, before June 1, 2020. The archdiocese has such systems and regularly encourages those who have experienced abuse to come forward.
  • Vos estis lux mundi mandates that all clerics and members of religious orders within the global Church report clergy sexual abuse and the cover-up of such misconduct to Church authorities, including when these offenses were committed by bishops or religious superiors, regardless of when they occurred.
  • Vos estis lux mundi confirms the duty to follow the reporting requirements of local civil jurisdictions. The archdiocese has reported all allegations to civil authorities, regardless of whether the accused is deceased or a diocesan clergy person or a member of a religious order.
  • Sexual acts carried out through violence or use of intimidation, including offenses against seminarians or novices, are subject to mandatory reporting and investigation.
  • This law protects those who report abuse from recriminations of any kind.
  • Vos estis lux mundi requires metropolitan bishops to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and the mishandling or cover-up of such misconduct by bishops and religious superiors in a timely and effective manner.
  • It encourages the inclusion of lay people in such investigations. Lay people are already integral to the investigatory process in this archdiocese through our independent review board comprised of victim survivors and experts in the fields of counselling, law enforcement and child care.
  • Investigations of accused bishops or leaders of religious orders are to be carried out at the local level, whether by archbishops or superiors of religious orders, unless there are conflicts of interest. In such cases, the law provides for an appropriate alternative. The law allows for lay experts to be used in the process.

How does this law work?

  • Anyone can forward an allegation against a diocesan cleric and/or member of a religious order to the relevant bishop and/or religious superior for investigation. Other measures for reporting can also be adopted to assure accessibility and transparency. All reporting requirements to civil authorities are to be observed.
  • Once a bishop or religious superior receives an allegation, he must forward it to the relevant local Church authority, the metropolitan archbishop of a given region or the superior general (“supreme moderator”) of the religious order. The allegation also must be forwarded to the Holy See.
  • The metropolitan archbishop or supreme moderator must then investigate the allegation in a timely manner. If the metropolitan archbishop or supreme moderator is accused or subject to a conflict of interest, another person, who is not in a conflict, is chosen by the Holy See.
  • Those tasked with carrying out such investigations are encouraged to engage the help of lay experts — including, for example, members of the existing review boards of many dioceses. Our conference can adopt guidelines to standardize the use of lay people in the process throughout the dioceses of the United States.
  • Once the investigation is complete, the results are forwarded to the relevant office of the Roman Curia, which must act promptly in accord with set timelines.

The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels he or she has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward. Complete information about reporting sexual abuse can be found on the Archdiocesan website at