Pope Francis Extends Rules for Sex-Abuse Investigations to Catholic Lay Leaders

Wall Street Journal [New York NY]

March 25, 2023

By Francis X. Rocca

Procedure has drawn criticism that it lacks transparency

ROME—The Vatican on Saturday published new legislation that extends to lay leaders of Catholic organizations the existing rules for investigating bishops over sex abuse or its coverup.

The amended rules aim to fill a gap in the Vatican’s effort to improve accountability over sex abuse, following revelations of abuse by lay leaders, but the changes are unlikely to quell criticisms that the procedure in place lacks transparency.

Under the legislation, promulgated in 2019 after a spate of scandals involving high-ranking prelates in the U.S., Latin America and Europe, every Catholic diocese around the world must maintain a “public, stable and easily accessible” process for reporting allegations of abuse, including by bishops and cardinals, that protects victims and whistleblowers.

The dioceses are required to report the allegations immediately to the Vatican, which is supposed to decide within a month whether they warrant an investigation.

The revised rules, which take effect April 30, will extend that process to lay leaders of Vatican-recognized “international associations of the faithful.”

Catholics and others around the world have been shocked by revelations concerning the late Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche federation, which organizes communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live together. An independent report by scholars released in January concluded that Vanier, who died in 2019, had sexual contact, in some cases abusive, with at least 25 nondisabled adult women.

“We sincerely ask for forgiveness from the people who were victims of this abuse,” the current leaders of L’Arche International wrote to their members in January. “We recognise our institutional responsibility for failing to spot these abuses, report them and forestall them.”

The new Vatican rules on abuse investigations don’t address complaints that the procedure remains opaque.

Earlier this month, a prominent advocate for abuse victims faulted the Vatican for not releasing the names of bishops and heads of religious orders investigated under the procedure.

“Although he has said he wants transparency, the pope has left the people in the dark,” Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks abuse cases around the world, told reporters. “Survivors and Catholics in the pews need and deserve this information.”

The Vatican didn’t respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca@wsj.com