It's becoming more tangible: for the first time, concrete legal proposals were discussed at the Vatican's anti-abuse summit. They should allow for the removal of bishops who have failed in dealing with abuse.
U.S. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago on Friday presented a twelve-point plan to supplement and tighten existing canonical norms at this point.
Key role for metropolitan of a church province
According to the proposal, in the future the metropolitan of an ecclesiastical province should play a key role in investigating a bishop and, in an emergency, in removing him from office. He should cooperate with competent non-clerics in the investigations. Germany has seven ecclesiastical provinces, each headed by an archbishop, including the cardinals in Cologne and Munich.
Under Cupich's proposal, the metropolitan archbishop should be able to investigate any bishop in his province if he has failed to deal with abuse cases in his diocese or was himself an abuser. The requirement is that there be credible accusations and that the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican agree to the investigation. Under the proposal, the metropolitan must forward the results of the investigation to Rome. Depending on the facts of the case, the pope can then order the bishop's deposition.
Longest-serving bishop asked
If a metropolitan himself is suspected of having committed abuse or failed in dealing with abuse in the diocese, Cupich's bill says the most senior bishop in the church province should take over the investigation.
The rules suggested by Cupich complement the pope's June 2016 letter "Come una madre amorevole" (Like a loving mother). At that time, Pope Francis had decreed that even in cases of negligence in dealing with abuse cases, bishops could be dismissed or forced to resign by the Vatican. However, specific implementing regulations for these standards have been lacking to date.
Abuse victims have been calling for years for a reform of church law that would allow a bishop to be fired for neglecting his supervisory duties. This is intended to enforce the accountability of church superiors.
Cardinal Gracias warns against erroneous dimension amption
At the start of the second day at the global anti-abuse summit at the Vatican, Bombay Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias had called for more open collegiality among bishops in the fight against sexual abuse.
"No bishop should say, 'I'm tackling this problem alone,'" Gracias warned Friday morning at the global anti-abuse summit at the Vatican. At the same time, he, too, warned against the misconception that abuse exists only in America, Europe or Australia: "It is also a problem in Africa and Asia."
The second day of the conference, convened by the Pope, will be devoted to the theme of "accountability". "Let's actually have open conversations and honestly point out when we observe problematic behavior among our brother bishops or priests?", Gracias, one of the four main organizers of the bishops' meeting, asked further. Bishops should openly admit mistakes and honestly ask for help when they need it. No one should pretend to be perfect, he said.
This collegiality among bishops is all the more important when the necessary "full cooperation between church and state authorities" is complicated by antagonism, especially where the church is persecuted, he said. "Only in a strong network of relationships between bishops and local churches can the church navigate through the turbulent waters of state-church conflicts," the cardinal from India said. In the very different context of Congo's political crisis, he said, the bishops there recently proved how to do it.
Open and constant communication
The suggestion that each bishop is accountable to the pope alone has led to a neglect of a necessary open "fraternal rebuke," Gracias criticized. On the other hand, there is a "Roman centralism that does not sufficiently take into account the diversity of bishops and the competences of the local churches".
There must be open and constant communication between the Roman Curia and the bishops' conferences. In order to accelerate proceedings against abuse, they should be decentralized, but the legal basis must remain uniform worldwide, Gracias explained.
Abuse victims criticize Indian Cardinal Gracias
Meanwhile, abuse victims in India accuse Cardinal Oswald Gracias of ignoring reports of abuse cases and taking no action against the alleged abusers. Cardinal Gracias, one of the two chairs of the current anti-abuse summit in Rome, denied the allegations to the Mumbai Mirror newspaper (Friday).
"We spoke to some victims of abuse before the trip to Rome. For sure, none of the victims of abuse has approached me about filing a complaint. "The allegations are absolutely untrue," Gracias, archbishop of Bombay (Mumbai) and president of the Indian Bishops' Conference, told the Mumbai Mirror from Rome.
Already on Thursday, the British broadcaster BBC had accused Cardinal Gracias of inaction and neglect in the case of the rape of a boy by a priest of his archdiocese. Gracias had only briefly taken the family's complaint in 2015 and then flew to Rome without informing the police, as required by law. The lawyer of the rape victim complained to the Mumbai Mirror that the cardinal had not offered her client any financial or psychological help, nor had he shown any compassion.
India's "Association of Concerned Catholics" told Mumbai Mirror it demanded the cardinal's immediate resignation from co-chairing the abuse conference.