Bishops’ Accountability

Pope Francis issued a decree on June 4 that makes it possible now to remove diocesan bishops for neglecting their duties, in particular in regard to protecting minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse. The decree comes in the form of an apostolic letter issued motu proprio, responding to many calls to hold bishops fully accountable for failing to act to protect children and vulnerable adults. In his decree Pope Francis recalls that already “canon law provides the possibility of removal from ecclesiastic office ‘for grave reasons’” and this applies also to “diocesan bishops, eparchs and those who are equivalent to them in law.” In the decree he explains that he wishes “to specify that among those ‘grave reasons’ is included the negligence of bishops in the exercise of their office, in particular in relation to the cases of sexual abuse committed on minors and vulnerable adults,” explaining that this had been envisaged by earlier decrees on this matter.

In the apostolic letter, “Come una Madre Amorevole” (“As a Loving Mother”), the pope emphasizes that “the church loves all her children but cares for and protects with most particular affection those who are small and defenseless.” Aware of this, he said, “the church dedicates a vigilant care to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.” Francis said this task of protecting and caring belongs to the whole church, “but it is especially through its pastors that this is exercised.” For this reason, he said, “diocesan bishops, eparchs and others who have responsibility for a particular church must exercise particular diligence in protecting those who are the weakest among the persons entrusted to them.” The decree also says that before giving his definitive decision the pope will draw on the assistance of “a college of jurists” established for this purpose.

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