Pope to appoint advisory board in removing negligent bishops

By Carol Glatz

CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will set up a panel of legal experts to help him in
deciding whether to remove a religious superior or bishop from office for
failing to protect minors and vulnerable adults from sex abuse.

offices will continue to investigate claims of negligence on the part of
bishops, ordinaries or religious superiors under their jurisdiction. But the
pope — who makes the final decision about a bishop’s removal from office —
will now be assisted by a papally appointed “college of jurists,”
according to procedures that take effect Sept. 5.

an apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (on his own initiative),
dated June 4, the pope reaffirmed that bishops of a diocese or eparchy and
those responsible for other kinds of particular churches can be
“legitimately removed” for negligence.

order for it to be grounds for removal, such negligence — either through
omission or commission — will have had to cause “serious harm to
others,” including individuals or a community, the letter said, and
“the harm can be physical, moral, spiritual” or to property.

letter clarified that it normally takes a “very serious” lack of due
diligence for a bishop to be removed, however, when it comes to a failing to
protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse, a “serious” lack
of due diligence “is sufficient” grounds for removal.

new procedures are “clearly an important and positive step forward by Pope
Francis,” said U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, head of the
Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

measures are meant to establish “a clear and transparent means for
ensuring greater accountability in how we, as leaders of the church, handle
cases of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” he said in a written
statement, released June 4. “We are grateful that our Holy Father has
received the recommendations from our commission members and that they have
contributed to this new and significant initiative.”

all members of the church have a duty to safeguard and protect children and
others from abuse, bishops of dioceses and eparchies, apostolic administrators
and vicars, and those who lead a territorial prelature or abbacy must be
especially diligent “in protecting the weakest of those entrusted to
them,” the pope’s letter said. It said the heads of religious orders also
come under the same standards of due diligence.

the new procedures, wherever there is a serious indication of negligence, the
Vatican congregation charged with overseeing a particular jurisdiction
“can begin an investigation.” The offices include the Congregation
for Bishops, the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies
of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the
Congregation for Eastern Churches.

a bishop’s removal is deemed appropriate, the congregation will produce,
“in the briefest time possible, the decree for removal,” the new
norms said.

congregation will then “fraternally exhort the bishop to present his
resignation within 15 days. If the bishop does not give his response in the
time called for, the congregation will be able to issue the decree for
removal,” it said.

every case, the congregation’s decision must be approved of by the pope, who —
before making that final decision — will be assisted by a “college of
jurists” he has appointed, it said.

“college” would be a sort of review board, that is, a body of
advisers and not a tribunal, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told Catholic News
Service June 6.

said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not be involved in
these investigations since the accusations do not deal with the crime of abuse,
but with “negligence of governance.”

proposal last year by the Council of Cardinals to have the doctrinal office
investigate and judge claims of “abuse of office” by bishops who
allegedly failed to protect minors had only been a suggestion, Father Lombardi
said, and “it never existed” as an established procedure.

new procedures spelled out in the “motu proprio” came after a year of
study by numerous experts, he said, and are meant to address the need for
greater accountability by bishops and superiors of religious orders.

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