Assessment of Vos Estis Lux Mundi on Its First Anniversary -- Statement by Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, (781-439-5208 cell)

May 9, 2020 -  A year ago, Pope Francis enacted new procedures for investigating bishops accused of abuse or of covering up clergy sex crimes.

Last Thursday, on May 7, one year to the day since Vos Estis Lux Mundi was promulgated, we learned of what might be its first removal of a complicit bishop.

two-line announcement in the Vatican's daily bulletin noted that the Pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Joseph R. Binzer from the office of the auxiliary of the Cincinnati archdiocese. The lay Catholic online publication Crux cites an unidentified Vatican source as confirming that Binzer had been subject to an investigation under the norms of Vos Estis. This raises the possibility that Binzer was found guilty of violating Vos Estis’ norms pertaining to reporting or cover-up or both. We can't be sure, however; neither the Pope nor his proxies have made any comment. 

Assuming that Binzer indeed is the first complicit bishop to be removed under Vos Estis, some might point to the case as a sign that Vos Estis is working. Seen differently, it reveals serious flaws in the Pope's plan. 

Despite repeatedly concealing allegations against a priest now slated to be tried for child rape, Binzer remains not only an archdiocesan priest, but a bishop, with the prestige and financial benefits that status entails.

Is this what passes for 'accountability' under the Pope's new law? An opaque process, Vatican control, papal silence, and the softest of landings for an official who twice ignored allegations against a priest?

This looks less like progress than business as usual. Yet Vos Estis was touted by Vatican spokespeople and commentators as "landmark" and "revolutionary." Archbishop Charles Scicluna called it a "watershed," adding that "the silence, omertà and cover-ups can now become a thing of the past."

An end to cover-up is unlikely, given Vos Estis' insularity from start to finish. Few recent papal decrees underscore as clearly the subordinate status of laypeople. Vos Estis requires every decision-maker in the accountability process to be at the level of bishop or higher. No priests, and certainly no laypeople, are permitted to have an authoritative role. Vos Estis even prevented the USCCB from initiating a permanent lay commission to review allegations against bishops. 

In a piece praising the new law, canon law expert Kurt Martens observed that Vos Estis re-affirms the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church and so "reminds us what it means to be truly Catholic."

"Independent review boards for bishops go against this fundamental principle of Catholic ecclesiology, and would set our Catholic Church on a slow but sure course towards fragmentation and, ultimately, Protestantism," Martens wrote.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters noted that Vos Estis reflects the fact that "the ecclesiological obstacles to authoritative 'lay involvement' in episcopal disciplinary matters are formidable and, in my view, ultimately insurmountable."

 "Christ founded his Church on popes and bishops, and He knew what He was about when He did so; the solution to the clergy sexual abuse, and to the hierarchic failings related to that abuse, must be found within that structure, not a new one," Peters explains.

Active Vos Estis investigations

If Binzer was indeed a Vos Estis case, it's the only one that, to our knowledge, has been concluded. We are tracking five other bishop investigations that are ongoing. Two have been verified as Vos Estis cases by the Vatican; two are possible Vos Estis cases; and a fifth is a potential Vos Estis case, with an investigation that's been requested but not yet authorized by the Vatican.

What's known of the cases so far does not inspire trust in the Vos Estis process. The cases exhibit inappropriate fraternal loyalty, Vatican stalling, and a lack of transparency. 

Cardinal Dolan after being tasked with investigating the bishop of Brooklyn: "I love the guy"
In January, the Vatican directed New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan to investigate an allegation that Brooklyn bishop Nicholas DiMarzio had sexually abused an altar boy in the 1970s. Dolan made no effort to appear impartial. On his radio show in February, he discussed the challenge of investigating his friend and neighbor. “I love the guy, he’s a good friend, he’s never had an accusation against him his whole life,” Dolan said. “But in November, somebody made an accusation from way, way, way, way, back -- 48 years or so ago -- and, as much as Bishop DiMarzio said ‘This is preposterous, this is ridiculous, this is unjust,’ darn it, we have to take it seriously.”

Polish cardinals publicly support bishop accused of sexually abusing a girl
In Poland, in another active Vos Estis case, Krakow's auxiliary bishop Jan Szkodoń is being investigated by the church for alleged sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl. Two of Poland's most prominent churchmen went public to voice their support -- for their colleague, not the victim. Warsaw archbishop Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz expressed "great empathy" for Szkodoń, saying that the accusation "doesn't fit." Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, former archbishop of Krakow, powerful ally of Pope John Paul II and protector of Father Maciel and Cardinal Groër, released a statement saying that he sees the accused bishop as "a priest of deep inner life, prayer and sensitivity to man... The allegations ... hurt many people for whom Bishop Jan is an authority, father and friend."

Still no Vatican ruling on Crookston bishop despite his admission under oath to mishandling cases. 
Last September, controversial Crookston bishop Michael Hoeppner became subject to what reportedly was the first Vos Estis investigation for cover-up, after Vatican officials green-lighted Archbishop Bernard Hebda's request to launch a probe. Hebda sent the Vatican his report on Hoeppner in November, around the time that Hoeppner's deposition in a civil case was made public as part of a settlement. In the deposition, Hoeppner admits to mishandling priests accused of child sexual abuse. Despite his admission and other strong evidence, along with growing public demand for his removal, Hoeppner remains in office. In February, the Vatican directed Hebda to investigate further. It still has given no word on when a ruling will be issued. 

In New Zealand, laity is given no details about accused bishop's removal
The people of the Palmerstown North diocese in New Zealand know only that Bishop Charles Drennan had to resign due to "unacceptable" sexual behavior with a young woman. They've been told nothing else about the bishop's wrongdoing, his current whereabouts or his future standing with the church. 

The Vatican ignores deadline for responding to request for Nienstedt investigation.
Vos Estis stipulates that the Vatican must respond within 30 days to an archbishop's request for an investigation. It's been nine months since St. Paul MN archbishop Bernard Hebda asked the Congregation for Bishops to allow him to investigate the actions of his predecessor, the disgraced archbishop John Nienstedt. Hebda has received no response. We know of the stalled case only because the archdiocese's court-appointed ombud decided to go public. Former prosecutor Thomas Johnson told the online publication Crux that the Vatican's delay is “unacceptable” and “risks undercutting the trust and transparency that the [Vos Estis] protocols were intended to help restore, particularly among victim survivors.”



Founded in 2003 and based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. An independent non-profit, it is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization. Its online priest database tracks more than 6,500 U.S. clergy who have been accused publicly of sexually abusing minors.

Contact for

Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director,, 781-439-5208 cell
Terence McKiernan, Founder and Co-Director,, 508-479-9304












Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.