In the early months of 2020 I wrote an article about the protection of minors and vulnerable persons in the light of regulations that had been promulgated after the Meeting of Bishops and Superiors General convened by Pope Francis in February 2019. At the time I highlighted that these were very important steps forward, but that in order to respond to expectations two further actions were still awaited: the publication of a “Vademecum” for bishops and superiors and the promulgation of the new Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, on the criminal law of the Church. Now these two steps have been taken, I want to give an account of them to our readers.
The Vademecum on some points of procedure in the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors committed by clerics was long overdue. Many bishops and religious superiors in past years had found themselves in great difficulty when faced with the emergence of allegations and subsequent scandals involving sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and were unable to act decisively and clearly. For a long time in the Church, as well as in society in general, a culture of concealment and avoidance in dealing with such questions had prevailed, and people felt unprepared, and often surprised and bewildered. How should one behave, what investigations should one launch, what procedures should one follow, and what measures should one take?
In truth the Church had developed answers and promulgated important standards, but many bishops lacked the competence or the help of expert collaborators to enable them to act in such a dramatic and “new” field, which was certainly complex and needed delicate handling from the pastoral and juridical point of view.