The bishops of the United States just concluded their annual summer meeting. One of the key topics was Pope Francis’ Apostolic Motu Proprio, modifying norms in response to sexual abuse.
In her June 11 opinion piece, Sen. Lauren Book cited this directive, noting that the Holy Father’s recent directive does not include a requirement to report allegations of abuse to law enforcement.
Existing Church law in the United States already requires notifying public authorities.
The U.S. Church has had such a policy since 2002 when the bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Pope Francis’ modification applies to the universal Church worldwide and, in some countries, unfortunately, calling the police is not a safe thing to do.
The type of internal Church law outlined by Pope Francis is separate from any investigation by civil authorities. In no way does a Church investigation interfere with or replace a civil investigation.
The Motu Proprio does not replace the Charter. Rather, it strengthens protections already in place and supports current policies to create a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, discipline offenders, and assist with healing for victims and survivors.
Since 2002, the Charter with its zero-tolerance provision, as well as requirements for background checks and safe environment training for employees and volunteers is working.
While Catholic leaders have had to confront painful, shameful yet historical failures and to facilitate healing for those harmed, the changes implemented have significantly decreased incidences of sexual abuse by clergy or church personnel.
While the bishops continue to be open to improving practices as they did in response to Pope Francis’ Moto Proprio, what the Church is doing right can help others in eliminating the scourge of sexual abuse that has harmed so many children and their families.
We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with Sen. Book on the work of the Church to address abuse and to develop a shared understanding of the work that remains.
Michael B. Sheedy is Executive Director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.