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Statement of Bishop Steven J Raicaregarding Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On May 9, 2019, Pope Francis published a motu proprio (=on his own initiative) a document entitled Vos estis lux mundi (=”You are the light of the world”) that sets forth additional procedural norms for addressing the issue of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people for the entire universal church. It emerged in the wake of the meeting Pope Francis held last February 2019 with the heads of Episcopal Conferences from around the world. The speed with which he has issued this document is an encouraging development for the good of the entire church. This document represents, along with other norms issued Vatican City State a short time ago, the urgency on his part, to address an issue that has a global impact. It will take effect on June 1, 2019 and continue for a three-year period ad experimentum.
As Bishop of Gaylord, I express my deep gratitude to Pope Francis for his pastoral concern and encouragement. Vos estis represents concrete evidence of our Holy Father’s desire to accompany victim-survivors toward a pathway of healing, and, at the same time, assist dioceses and religious communities in formulating their policies and procedures for action against perpetrators, including claims of abuse or neglect made against bishops and religious superiors. The clarity is welcomed. While this document does not overturn our current protocols based upon the Dallas Charter and Essential Norms, (which have served us well since 2002) it fills in some gaps. It offers further definitions and needed clarifications to help us in this important work of safe environments.
I will ask our Diocesan Review Board and others to review this new document and to make recommendations as to how we can strengthen our policies and procedures here in the Diocese of Gaylord.
As I read through the document, I noted some initial highlights that that may help us understand this urgency of Pope Francis:
1) All dioceses – worldwide -- must have a public, accessible and reliable system for reporting:
• the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults (a clarification of the term “vulnerable adult” is helpful);
• possession or distribution of child pornography;
• use of violence or intimidation (whether with minors or adults) to engage in sexual acts;
• and the cover-up of such conduct.
Dioceses without a current system must establish one at the latest by June 1, 2020 and must, by that date, notify the appropriate pontifical representative that the system has been put in place.
2) All clerics and members of religious orders (priests, deacons, brothers, sisters) and bishops (including Cardinals), whether of the Latin or Oriental Church, are required to report sexual abuse and any cover-up to Church authorities, including when committed by bishops or religious superiors. (This requirement does not preclude the reporting to civil authorities. The reporting to competent ecclesiastical authority is done so that when the civil authorities have concluded their investigation or have decided not to pursue an investigation, the matter can be taken up by internal canonical processes. In that way it respects both legal systems).
3) Reporters of sexual abuse are protected from prejudice, retaliation or discrimination for reports made in good faith.
4) The reporting requirement does not change or interfere with any existing duty to report under local civil laws. (I note here that complexities of civil law vary from country to country. So, the reporting requirement is intentionally broad. In the State of Michigan mandated reporters report claims of abuse of current minors to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, the Diocese of Gaylord reports claims of sexual abuse of minors and young adults to local prosecutors and the Attorney General’s office. The Diocese of Gaylord has voluntarily reported all allegations of sexual abuse of minors or adults to civil authorities for over 15 years.)
5) If the allegation involves a bishop or supreme moderator, it is to be reported to the Metropolitan archbishop. After receiving the mandate, the Metropolitan archbishop, or whomever has been placed in charge of the investigation by the Holy See, must investigate allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up by bishops or supreme moderators in a timely and effective manner, with participation by lay experts provided for under these norms.
6) The Roman Curia must act promptly with respect to the reports received (i.e., within timelines established in Vos estis).
7) The laity, especially those possessing competencies and expertise in this area, are especially invited to play an enhanced role in the process.
This motu proprio reflects the seriousness of Pope Francis in addressing this evil / sin. While these new rules shore up a direction for the entire church, my thoughts turn to the victim-survivors who continue to teach us about the wounds they carry each and every day. I beg for your prayers above all for the victim-survivors, whom I remember at Mass and in my daily prayers. I also urge you to join me as we remember and pray for all those who serve the church faithfully. Together we can be strong in ridding our communities of this scourge not only in our church but also in our society.
Finally, I also look forward to working with other bishops at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and those here in the Province of Detroit to continue our conversation in understanding and seeking to develop practices and procedures for those areas that we learn about and have not yet considered.
During this month of May, may we implore Mary, the Mother of Jesus and patroness of our Diocese, to pray for us. And may God bless all the faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Steven J Raica
Bishop of Gaylord
You may read the entire text of Vos estis lux mundi here.