On Saturday, Pope Francis issued an edict on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, in which he said that negligence on the part of a bishop can constitute removal from office.
Entitled “Like a loving mother,” the edict -- officially called a motu proprio — contributes to existing norms in place with regard to abuse cases. It particularly pertains to bishops, eparchs, or religious superiors who are deemed guilty of negligence in such cases.
In a statement, Holy See press office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, drew attention to two points in the motu proprio. The first is that a bishop can be guilty of lacking in diligence even in the absence of “grave moral culpability on his part.”
The second point is, in cases pertaining to the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, “it is sufficient for the lack of diligence be grave” for a bishop to be removed from office. In other cases, a “very grave” lack of diligence is necessary for a bishop's removal.
Canon law already makes provisions for the removal of bishops “for grave reasons,” as is noted in the motu proprio.
The document states that diocesan bishops and eparchs, whether permanent or temporary, can be subject to removal on account of negligence -- either through "committed or omitted acts" -- if such failure resulted in “physical, moral, spiritual, or patrimonial” harm to an individual or a community as a whole.
Investigations into the conduct of bishops will be carried out by four “competent Congregations,” Fr. Lombardi's statement reads.
Fr. Lombardi said the congregations charged with investigations are: the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for The Evangelisation of Peoples, the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
If, after investigations, this team of congregations determine it is necessary to remove the bishop, they will decide whether to remove him immediately, or give him fifteen days to resign. If the bishop does not resign in the allotted period, the congregations can decree his removal from office.
The decision made by the congregation must be submitted for approval by the Pope, “who will be assisted by a special college of lawyers, duly assigned.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will not be involved in these cases because they pertain to negligence, not abuse, Fr. Lombardi said in the statement.
“Like a loving mother,” Pope Francis writes, in reference to the title of the motu proprio, “the Church loves all her children, but cares for and protects the smallest and most defenseless with a very particular affection: it is a task which Christ himself entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole.”
For this reason, the Pope writes, the Church pays “vigilant attention to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”
While it is the responsibility of the entire Church to protect minors and vulnerable adults, bishops, eparchs, and those with responsibilities in a particular Church, must be extra diligent, Francis writes.
“With the present letter, I intend to clarify that, among the said 'grave reasons,' is included negligence of bishops in exercising their office, in particular as regards cases of sexual abuse committed against minors and vulnerable adults, envisaged by the [motu proprio] Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, promulgated by St. John Paul II, and amended by my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI.