Statement of Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on the Vatican City State’s New Child Protection Policies
I welcome the release today of three important documents by which Pope Francis makes clear that everyone in the Church has a “duty to report abuses (of minors and vulnerable adults) to competent authorities and to cooperate with them in the activities of prevention and response.” This is so, the Holy Father remarks, because “the protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message that the Church and all her members are called to spread throughout the world.”
The first of these documents is an executive order (motu proprio), which issues both specific laws and pastoral guidelines applicable to Vatican City State and the embassies of the Holy See around the world. It is true that few, if any children reside in the Vatican. Yet, it is precisely that fact, along with the inclusion of the most advanced international norms in shaping these documents, which demonstrates that Pope Francis is offering a template for the global church.
Specifically, these documents released today put into law and/or provide the following measures:
- All crimes related to abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, not just those of a sexual nature, but any mistreatment, will be prosecuted even if the victim does not file an official report;
- Everyone in the Vatican, the members of the Roman Curia and diplomatic staff serving in embassies around the world are mandatory reporters and there are sanctions for failure to report;
- The Vicar of Vatican City has the obligation to report to the Promoter of Justice any information of abuse that “is not manifestly unfounded”, and to remove the alleged perpetrator of the abuse from pastoral activities as a precautionary measure;
- Anyone found guilty of abuse will be “removed from office” in the Vatican. If the person is a priest, all the canonical norms already in force, will be put into practice;
- A qualified expert will be appointed to offer pastoral care and accompaniment for victims of abuse in the Vatican;
- Guidelines are now in place regarding proper behavior of adults, i.e., adults must “always be visible to others when they are in the presence of minors,” it is strictly forbidden “to establish a preferential relationship with a single minor, to address a minor in an offensive way or to engage in inappropriate or sexually allusive conduct, to ask a minor to keep a secret, to photograph or to film a minor without the written consent of his parents;”
- A 20-year prescription period (statute of limitations) has been introduced, that, “in the case of offense to a minor” begins on his or her eighteenth birthday. In Italy, these crimes could not be prosecuted more than four years after the crime itself was committed.
We should not overlook the fact that these documents come just a month after the Holy Father’s meeting with the presidents of the episcopal conferences and leaders of religious women and men from across the world. On the last day of the meeting, the pope called for an all-out battle against child abuse. Today’s development should be viewed as the first in a series of concrete steps the pope indicated would come in short order. We can anticipate the release of a handbook or ‘vademecum’ for the universal Church, the revision of Book 6 of the Code of Canon Law, the issuance of procedures for implementing the Apostolic Letter “Like a Loving Mother”, which deals with misconduct and mishandling on the part of bishops and the creation of task forces to assist under-resourced dioceses in bringing their norms for protecting minors up-to-date and to deal with these cases effectively.
Much work needs yet to be done, but today sets the Catholic Church on a path from which there is no turning back.