ROSARIO, Argentina – Two major archdioceses in Argentina are facing allegations of wanting to “replace the state” by creating a commission to receive allegations of clerical sexual abuse, but one expert says civil law and canon law aren’t competitors for justice.

“Always, every case, the law of the State wherever the abuse happens, must be followed and respected,” said Maria Ines Franck, the executive secretary of the Pastoral Council for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults of the Argentine bishops’ conference.

“The Church is a different entity, but complementary, and both must be upheld because the person has these two dimensions, as a faithful and as a citizen.”

Archbishop Eduardo Martin of Rosario and Archbishop Sergio Fenoy from nearby Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz are being accused of “usurpation of the role of the State, swindles and other frauds,” after the two prelates announced the “implementation of a system for receiving allegations” of sexual crimes committed by priests and other members of the Church

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Franck’s comments came during a Zoom conversation organized by Argentina’s bishops conference that also included Bishop Sergio Buenanueva, president of the council; and Father Mauricio Landra, former dean of the canon law faculty of the Pontifical University of Argentina.

The event was organized as a dialogue with a handful of Argentine journalists to discuss guidelines on guidelines for handling abuse cases that was released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Landra supported Franck, adding that “secular law” is not the only law, and that even though civil authorities have their obligations, so does the Church, because when all is said and done, the State cannot remove a man from the priesthood.

The priest also noted that the document released by the Vatican “does not change the law,” nor does it intend to replace the formation of professionals who in each diocese receive the allegations, but it’s intended to help make the global response more “uniform.”

Though the guidelines – called a vademecum – are intended for members of the Catholic Church who help ecclesial authorities deal with the issues surrounding sexual abuse, these people aren’t only the faithful but are also citizens of a nation, and in this sense, Landra said, “there’s no person more deaf that he who doesn’t want to listen.”

Explaining, he said the Church does its best on communicating cases of abuse, but there’s always an accusation its intention is not really transparency. “If we communicate, we’re accused of doing so too late, or too early, or with another intention.”

Buenanueva added that when it comes to fighting clerical sexual abuse, it’s not only about new norms, processes and formation, but also about a “change of mentality.”

“As Pope Francis says, clericalism is an evil with two extremes: The clergy, who are too comfortable with power, and the laity, who in some cases are too comfortable in leaving all the responsibility to the clergy,” he said. “We still need a genuine conversion, and I believe that we’re all responsible in this process.”

The abuse crisis, Buenanueva said, “is grave and deep, and the response that the Church is giving – after a period of initial uncertainty – is now taking it at ‘cruising speed.’ But this growing response to the crisis is also a process of learning. This crisis calls upon us to retrace our steps, see how we’ve faced the crisis in past decades, learn from the many mistakes, perplexities and situations that were not carried out adequately.”

“There’s a big learning curve for everyone in the Church: From the pope to the diocesan commissions, to any person who wants to help address it,” Buenanueva said.

The bishop also noted that when he speaks of “Church,” he’s not referring to the hierarchy but to all the baptized, because when it comes to this “very sensitive issue, we speak of an ecclesial body in the riches sense of the word, with more and more lay people involved, particularly women.”

To address the clerical sexual abuse crisis and when it comes to answering Pope Francis’s call to create diocesan commissions tasked with receiving allegations against priests or religious, the Church in Argentina, Buenanueva said, is convoking priests, religious men and women and laity who understand they “cannot continue looking at this problem from across the street.”

Referring specifically about the vademecum released by the Vatican on July 16, Franck highlighted several elements of it, including the fact that it gives a more clear definition of sexual abuse, beyond the canonical term of “crimes against the sixth commandment;” insists on the importance of investigating every allegation made, even if it’s vague or anonymous; protects the seal of the sacrament of confession, which some countries are trying to challenge; and “has an important emphasis to welcoming and accompanying every person who’s been a victim.”

She noted that, beyond the conversation with journalists, the Argentine commission for protecting children and preventing abuse is currently carrying out an on-line formation seminar for over 130 people who, in different dioceses nationwide, are setting up the commissions Francis asked for in his 2019 motu proprio Vox estis lux mundi – “You are the light of the world” which deals with clerical sexual abuse.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma