Pope Francis Creates Tribunal to Judge Bishops’ Handling of Sex Abuse Cases

Vatican Public DomainPope Francis has taken his own cardinals’ consultative group recommendation that he create a Vatican tribunal to investigate and judge bishops’ handling of priest sex abuse cases.

The news has been met with hope and anticipation from groups who advocate on behalf of sex abuse survivors. The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial praising the announcement, “It has been slow in coming and the steps taken are incremental, but there is little doubt that the Catholic church has entered a new phase in the decades long crisis and scandal of clergy sexually abusing children. For the first time, there is clear evidence that the people’s cry for justice and action has reached the pope and his closest advisers. For the first time, there is clear evidence that bishops who perpetuated and extended this scandal by covering up, dismissing or ignoring abuse are going to be held accountable.”

Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors emphasized the importance and severity of bishops’ actions by calling their failure to protect children an “abuse of office”.

According to NCR, “A tribunal will be appointed to judge bishops for these abuses of episcopal office, and a new section with permanent personnel within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to handle these cases will be established. The person in charge will be a secretary of the congregation reporting directly to the prefect of the congregation. Most important, Francis has “authorized that sufficient resources will be provided for this purpose.”
While the announcement was greeted with hope, some national leaders such as David Clohessy of SNAP and Terence McKiernan of www.bishopaccountability.org emphasized that the announcement would have to be met with concrete action in order for it to protect children and initiate real reform. “This move will give hope to some. But hope doesn’t safeguard kids,” said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

We of course are glad to see the Vatican do more to hold bishops accountable for abuse that happened on their watch. But there is nothing in the Pope’s announcement about cooperating with law enforcement to see that these bishops — or pedophile priests — are criminally prosecuted. This is a good step towards internal Vatican housecleaning. And hopefully it will lead to better behavior throughout the Catholic Church going forward. But it should not be used as an excuse to shield bishops from criminal prosecution if they have committed crimes under the laws of their countries.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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