Pope Francis issues norms for Church’s handling of sex abuse

Requires that every diocese have a mechanism for reporting abuse, puts the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations made against suffragan bishops

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. (Credit: Luxerendering/Shutterstock.)

New Vatican norms for the Church’s handling of sex abuse, issued Thursday, place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the misuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The norms also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

Pope Francis promulgated the law May 9 via a motu proprio, titled, “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”). He approved its promulgation on an experimental basis for a period of three years. It will enter in effect June 1, 2019.

The new law also concerns any actions intended to cover-up a civil or canonical investigation into accusations of child pornography use, sexual abuse of minors, or sexual coercion through abuse of power.

It establishes the so-called “metropolitan model” for the investigation of accusations against bishops and their equivalents, as proposed by Cardinal Blase Cupich at the November meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican February summit on the protection of minors.

According to the new law, the metropolitan archbishop will conduct the investigation into a suffragan bishop with a mandate from the Holy See. The metropolitan is required to send reports to the Holy See on the progress of the investigation every 30 days and to complete the investigation within 90 days unless granted an extension.

In the event a report concerns a major archbishop, it will be forwarded to the Holy See.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.


  1. Better late than never, but barely. They also need stern norms about Bishops who engage in cover up of substantiated clerical abuse.

  2. Lou Varini says

    For all lay persons who have a complaint, bypass these so-called norms and go straight to civil authorities who are outside the juridical authority of the Holy See. The Holy Father’s watered-down procedural “norms” cannot be trusted.

    In matters as grave as these, past behaviors of the prelates is only prologue to future cover-up. Better to go directly to civil authorities so that the individuals who have previously betrayed the duties of apostolic, episcopal and Petrine succession can no longer betray trust.

    • Dear Lou Varini: It seems you’re over-reacting a bit. The Holy Father’s norms do not preclude a person reporting abuses to civil authorities. In fact, based on this article, covering-up a civil investigation is a no-no in the Holy Father’s norms. Also what these norms cover is the Church’s own investigation and procedures: namely, that even the alleged crime of a cardinal cannot now be covered up. As usual, people of a particular bent are wont to ascribe bad things to the Pope himself, as if they’re right.

      • St. Christopher says

        It is evident that Francis and the Vatican masters of the institutional Church will never permit a meaningful process to investigate and punish Catholic clergy sexual abusers. Why? Because Francis refuses to address what many true Catholics have written is the cause of the sexual predations here: homosexual sex: “This is a crisis due to the scourge of homosexuality, in its agents, in its motives, in its resistance to reform. It is no exaggeration to say that homosexuality has become a plague in the clergy, and it can only be eradicated with spiritual weapons.” (Vigano letter of 10/19/18)

        • Me thinks that before you spew accusations against the Holy Father you ought to read the actual text of the motu proprio because your point (that they will never permit a meaningful process) has no ground in fact and reality. It is contradicted by the motu propio itself!

          • Lou Varini says

            Your conclusion is based on a questionable premise. Past actions in dealing with abuse situations, whether minors, vulnerable / vulnerable adults, homosexual or heterosexual, obviously indicate failures. Regardless of the supposed “norms” promulgated by the Holy Father, past practices of distraction obfuscation and frustration of inquiries have tainted the Holy See’s credibility.

            Better to act upon the old axiom —- “Past is prologue.” Better to doubt the Holy See’s credibility than to again be fooled.

          • St. Christopher says

            The Nazis had lots of laws and much, much process (also the Soviets, the Chinese and all dictatorial systems). The issue is who is watching the watchers. The institutional Church cannot, in any semblance of good faith, look to people like C. Cupich as the overseers of the Church’s sexual abuse investigatory process. In fact, this “process,” once in practice, will be far more about policing dutiful and Catholic-Faithful bishops than in bringing down evildoers within the Church. And, no one, under Cupich, will ever dare touch homosexual sex as a reason for any assault. You need to read this, “jon;” it is a fool’s paradise. (Come on, CCD Censors)

      • Lou Varini says

        My comment was directed at bypassing Church authoritits all together, even though the laity have the option of both going to Church and civil authorities.

        Past behavior by Chirch officials demonstrated that there is a credibility issue.

        • Right. So Lou Varni’s and SC’s words above–which is to belittle, to deride, to ascribe mal-intent upon the actions of the Holy Father and the bishops in this new norms–have to understood thusly. These are most likely hyper-traditionalists for whom any good action, good law, perfectly fine decision by the Magisterium is suspect. I may sound facetious here but, they will not cease from unjustly castigating the bishops of the Church until every Catholic parish is ONLY offering the TLM. Just sayin.

          • Lou Varini says

            TLM is the solution? Using this logic isolates, marginalizes, trivializes and negates all of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Therefore, using your logic, the Maronite, Byzantine, Melkite, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, Coptic, Syriac etc. Liturgies are illegitimate. Here is news, the liturgies of the Eastern Catholic Churches, celebrated in their traditional languages are just as legitimate as the TLM, and their Sacraments are just as valid.

          • Katie S. says


            So, the Divine Liturgies of the non-Latin Catholic Churches and their Sacraments do not impart sanctifying grace? How absued!!!

            The Latin Rite is not the only “flavor” of Catholicism. Remember, “Catholic:” means “Universal”.

          • St. Christopher says

            More ad hominem, eh “jon?” You cannot, in good faith, and in any system, put a wolf to “watch over” the sheep. This is the Catholic Church, which is at once perfect and holy, and, an institution that is run by men. But Christ demands that the Church’s rulers strive to be holy, and to be “servants” of all, seeking to lead the world to holiness and, hopefully, salvation. The Cupich Plan promises to both protect sexual predators (i.e., mostly homosexual sexual persons), and to police the orthodox activities of the few faithful bishops and cardinals that we have. What an insult to the Church, and to its Perfect Founder. George Soros is happy, though.

          • Spanikopita says

            Jon, it is unbelievable that you are implying that my Melkite Greek Catholic eparchy change its Divine Liturgies according to the traditions we follow in the Byzantine Rite, in Greek, should now be abandoned and be replaced by the Roman Tridentine Rite, in Latin.

            It appears you are obstinantly and wilfully ignorant. Please educate yourself on the Divine Liturgy here:


          • Spanikopita says

            Awaiting an answer. Are or are not the Eastern Divine Liturgies just as legitimate as the traditional Tridentine Latin Liturgy?

          • Anonymous says

            Spanikopita, you have misunderstood what jon wrote.

        • SC, do be reminded what “ad hominem” is. You’re misusing the phrase. There is nothing in my comments that are a personal attack on anyone. Plus I do not detect anyone making an ad hominem “attack” on you.

          • St. Christopher says

            “jon,” your entire May 10, 7 pm post is an ad hominem attack. Read the dictionary.

        • Anonymous says

          Almost every diocese encourages victims to report abuse to civil authorities first

  3. With conflicting claims of how accused priests and accusing victims claim to have been treated by the church, Lou Variniʻs approach seems appropriate. If a priest is accused, he needs a civil lawyer right away. The priest has no power once the bishop takes over the case. The priest is removed from ministry and is in limbo while the case makes its way slowly through church structures, sometimes years, having no way for self defense. Those who allege abuse need to go to the civil authorities for investigation of their claims and adjudication if evidence be found. The diocese should be involved for spiritual support if it will indeed provide such for both the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim.

    • Fr. Frank Phillips in the archdiocese of Chicago was accused of bad behavior with adult men, removed from ministry March 2018, exonerated after a church investigation. Cardinal Cupich would not let him return to ministry, so Fr. Phillips is serves outside Chicago is in good standing. His case has just now been accepted in Rome with no date for proceedings this May of 2019. This is a rapid time line for the Catholic justice, yet a very slow timeline for a priest to have to fight to minister. In the church bishops are almost supreme and independent in their application of justice. They are not so before the civil courts. So Lou Varini’s advice to seek civil assistance is important for both accused and accuser.

      • Lou Varini says

        Fr. Perozioch,

        You articulate the practicalities of the current situation much better than I can.

        In Pacem Vadis,

  4. What will a civil court do for Fr. Phillips? Won’t they view this as an ‘internal ‘family’ dispute’ and decline to act? What the Church needs is strong procedure compelling Cdl Cupich to state promptly [sixty days?] his reason[s] for not fully restoring Fr Phillips once competent Church authorities cleared him.
    Certainly secular police and judicial authorities can act promptly when an allegation arises. But they will stop when facts do not support the allegation.
    Justice delayed is justice denied for both parties.

    • They may do so, Mike, but civil laws address many issues, and there may be some resolution here to protect the priest’s reputation, require the allegations be made public. In some past cases where priests have been removed NOT for sexual impropriety accusations, the courts declined to intervene. In cases of sexual misconduct the lawyers may have some recourse to law

  5. Iggy Ant says

    The manner on which the Church has previously (and currentlt) handled the clregy’s failure to observe their vows of chastity, as well as taking advantage of their positions of spiritial leadership will not be reminded bu these new norms.

    The new norms are a lax approach and reflect the casual amd lax approach of the clergy toward the Eucharist itself:


  6. Analysis of the “new norms, which demonstrate that thete are no substantive checks and balances:


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