Pope Francis announced on Saturday that new legal guidelines have been established to remove bishops from office if it is determined they failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse by clergymen within their parish. Francis has pointed out that there were already regulations in place to remove bishops for “grave reasons,” but he wanted to more clearly define what exactly that term meant.
Bishops “must undertake a particular diligence in protecting those who are the weakest among their flock,” Francis wrote in the law.
The announcement changes very little. The only significant difference is that the pope has specifically stated that mishandling of sexual abuse cases is cause for dismissal.
Bishops have long been accused by victims and advocates of responding to allegations of sexual abuse by simply moving the offending clergyman to a different parish rather than reporting them to the police. There are those who doubt the revisions will have any meaningful impact, pointing out the pope has always had the authority to remove negligent bishops but has refrained from doing so.
In the meantime, certain bishops are taking action of their own to contend with the issue of sexual abuse within the church. In Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda is working on streamlining the process of providing financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by clergymen.
“In other dioceses, that approval process has taken years. For example, in Milwaukee, the process took more than five years and only $21 million was available to compensate claimants. We are submitting our plan now in the hope of compensating victims/survivors and promoting healing sooner rather than later,” he wrote in a letter dated 26 May.
He added: “We will never be able to undo the harm caused, but, we will compensate those harmed, help in any way we can with their healing, and create and maintain safe environments for all children today and always.”