The Holy See has agreed to establish a new Vatican tribunal section to hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests. This is the biggest step the Vatican has taken yet to hold bishops accountable.
Boston’s Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the head of Pope Francis' sex abuse advisory commission, presented the proposals to the Pontiff's cardinal advisers, who have been meeting this week. The Vatican and Pope Francis has now authorized funding for full-time personnel to staff the new office.
On Wednesday the Vatican announced that the Pope had approved the proposals put forward by his sexual abuse advisory board.
In a statement the Vatican announced that a new judicial section will be created inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors."
The Congregation currently reviews all cases of priests who abuse minors.
Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said this means there is now a specific process by which the Vatican can deal with bishops who are negligent in handling cases of abuse in their territories.
Although Canon law does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, the Vatican was never known to have meted out punishment for a bishop who covered up for an abuser.
Marie Collins, a member of the commission and an Irish survivor of abuse said “I sincerely believe this is a real step forward. Time will tell the effectiveness of the new measure, but I am hopeful.”
Over the years the Vatican has been criticized by victims, advocacy groups, and others for having failed to ever punish the bishops who covered up the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. In April, Francis accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who had been convicted of failing to report a suspected child abuser. In fact Cardinal O'Malley's predecessor as archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, resigned in 2002 under fire for mishandling cases of clerical sex abuse. However these, and others like them, were not forced resignations.
The new tribunal was greeted with skepticism by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an anti-abuse group.
In a statement they said “The pope has virtually limitless power.“by now, he could have sacked dozens of complicit bishops. He has, however, sacked no one."
They added that in the face of “widespread denial, timidity and inaction” in the Catholic Church, "let’s be prudent, stay vigilant and withhold judgment until we see if and how this panel might act."
At the end of 2014 Sean O’Malley spoke the CBS news show “60 Minutes” about how action needed to be taken against bishops, in the United States. At the time he was referring specifically to the case of Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St Joseph Missouri diocese.
O’Malley said “It’s a question the Holy See needs to address urgently ... There’s a recognition of that from Pope Francis.”
He added “We’re looking at how the church could have protocols on how to respond when a bishop has not been responsible for the protection of children in his diocese.”