ROME – Following February’s Vatican summit to address the Church’s fight against clerical sexual abuse, Rome currently is rushing to produce a series of documents that amend Church law to address what were identified as gaps during that session.
However, sources who spoke on background have told Crux that one of those pending documents risks being so rushed that instead of making things clearer, it may raise more questions than it answers.
Based on portions of the draft text obtained by Crux, the document addresses not only clerical sexual abuse of minors but also crimes of a sexual nature committed by nuns. Yet at least in its draft form, it’s not specified which Vatican office will be tasked with looking into those crimes—for instance, whether it’s the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with clergy abusing minors, or the Congregation for Religious, which oversees men’s and women’s religious orders.
Drafting of the document is being coordinated by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, headed by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and reviewed by various other offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The working title for the document- technically a motu proprio, meaning a change to Church law under the pope’s authority – is, “You are the light of the world.” The document opens with that phrase, and the following line completes a quote from the Gospel of Matthew: “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Every believer, the document says, is called to be an example of “virtue, integrity and holiness,” as everyone is called to give a concrete witness of the faith in Christ.
“Crimes of sexual abuse offend our Lord, wound the community of the faithful and cause physical, psychological and spiritual damages to the victims,” the document says. “So that these phenomena, in all their forms, don’t happen anymore, a continuous and deep conversion of the heart is needed as is visible, collegial and synodal action.”
Such conversion, the draft document says, will only happen if the Church learns from past mistakes and “courageously” looks to a future in which these situations won’t happen again.
Those who succeed the apostles, meaning the bishops, “chosen by God to represent Jesus Christ in the pastoral guidance of the Christian people,” have more responsibility, the draft says, hence it’s important to have procedures in place to prevent and combat these crimes.
The document, which will eventually carry the pope’s signature, also says that Francis wants efforts to fight clerical sexual abuse to be carried out in an “ecclesial way, and as such, to be an expression of the hierarchical communion that unites us.”
Vatican officials believe the document could be promulgated on Easter Sunday, if not before. Release, however, also could be postponed so that it doesn’t interfere with Holy Week, or due to a delay in translations.
The document, which was originally intended to be two different texts, also addresses bishops’ accountability, meaning what to do with a bishop who was negligent when addressing a case of clerical sexual abuse.
In the first section, under “general dispositions,” it says its norms apply in cases of allegations against “clerics or members of Institutes of consecrated life or of societies of apostolic life.” That means it applies to priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters as well as lay people living in community without any religious vows.
This section, according to one Vatican official who asked not to be identified but who has reviewed the draft, is “totally confused.”
One official told Crux there are “too many people” involved in the document, and that it’s being reviewed “at lightning speed and with no guarantee that any of the observations are even being considered.”
Among other things, the document answers Pope Francis’s request to raise the age of what’s considered pornography with minors from 14 to 18, and its “production, exhibition, holding or distribution” will be considered a crime against the Sixth Commandment.
But the same section also bundles together the abuse of authority to force someone, adult or minor, to perform or receive a sexual act with the abuse of minors and vulnerable people. In addition, the definition of “vulnerable person” is broadened to include “each person in a state of sickness, of physical or psychical deficiency, or deprived of their personal freedom to the extent that it limits, even if occasionally, their ability to understand or resist the offense.”
At the end of the Feb. 21-24 anti-abuse summit convened by Francis, two documents were promised: A set of guidelines for the Vatican City State, and a handbook, or vademecum, for bishops. Though demanded by many reformers, particularly survivors’ advocacy groups, there was specific reference to bishops’ accountability at the summit.
One source told Crux that the Vatican is rushing to get the document out in part to have it available before the U.S. bishops meet next in June, at which time they’re expected to resume deliberations on their own procedures for accountability.