A California bishop under a Vatican investigation over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations said Wednesday that he will cooperate with investigators and he supports a process put in place by Pope Francis for the investigation of negligent bishops.
“Tuesday, Catholic News Agency (CNA) published an article about a possible Vatican investigation into the handling of clerical misconduct during my time as Bishop of the Diocese of Las Cruces. I support the Vos Estis protocols to ensure the accountability of bishops and to bring justice and healing to victims/survivors, and I intend to cooperate fully with any inquiry,” Bishop Oscar Cantu said Nov. 18.
The bishop’s statement came after CNA reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops has ordered an investigation Cantu’s handling of allegations of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct. The investigation is being carried out under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 law for holding bishops accountable in the handling of sexual abuse cases.
The allegations concern Cantu’s handling of abuse and misconduct cases in his former diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cantu was bishop of Las Cruces from 2013 to 2018, and is now Bishop of San Jose, California.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of San Jose told CNA Monday evening that “Bishop Cantu has not been notified of any inquiry regarding this matter.”
The bishop’s Wednesday statement did not indicate that he had since been officially notified of the investigation.
Vatican officials confirmed to CNA that the investigation is being carried out under the terms of Article 1, §1, b of Vos estis, which concerns “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious” in cases of sexual abuse.
A second Vatican official emphasized to CNA that Vos estis investigations are preliminary, and that no formal charges have been brought as yet.
“This is not a trial – not a trial,” he stressed. “The bishop has every presumption of innocence and remains in office, as is proper. The process will continue and develop as is appropriate.”
The Diocese of Las Cruces declined to comment to CNA, but offered a statement to the San Jose Mercury News.
“Bishop Baldacchino has made accountability and rebuilding trust with local Catholics his foremost priority since arriving in the diocese,” the statement said.
“In line with the provisions of Pope Francis, he is absolutely committed to ensuring every accusation is heard and investigated, and every victim cared for.”
The apostolic nunciature to the United States has declined requests from CNA for comment.