Catholic Bishop Reporting

Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”) is an apostolic letter authored by Pope Francis and issued motu proprio (“on his own initiative”). In the document, Pope Francis addresses the issue of sexual abuse and bishop accountability in the entire Church. The non-retroactive provisions found in the Apostolic Letter went into effect on June 1, 2019, and the letter is available on the Vatican website in eleven different languages, including English. While Vos estis lux mundi is worth reading in its entirety, one may find a good summary here.

Vos estis lux mundi “obliges all clerics, as well as men and women religious, to report to the competent ecclesiastical authorities the abuses of which they become aware.” Indeed, any individual may report a Catholic bishop who forced someone to perform or submit to sexual acts, including by means of violence, threat or abuse of authority; who performed sexual acts with a minor (under the age of 18) or vulnerable person (defined in the motu proprio as “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offense”); and “the production, exhibition, possession or distribution of child pornography (“any representation of a minor, regardless of the means used, involved in explicit sexual activities, whether real or simulated, and any representation of sexual organs of minors for primarily sexual purposes”) as well as by recruitment of or inducement of a minor or vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions.

The motu proprio also applies to conduct carried out by bishops, cardinals and religious superiors “consisting of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the delicts (crimes)” in the preceding paragraph.

There are provisions in the motu proprio that call for the protection of the person submitting the report.

The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service is up and running. Reports may be made at (800) 276-1562 or Reports received on the phone line or website are swiftly forwarded to the appropriate Metropolitan Archbishop. In the case of the Diocese of Orange, the Archbishop of Los Angeles would receive the report. The Archbishop or his delegate (a lay person) review the allegation(s) and forward it/them to the Apostolic Nuncio (the papal representative) in Washington D.C. The Apostolic Nuncio then informs the Holy See, which will give him direction as to next steps in the process. If the crime in question is alleged to include the sexual abuse of a minor, civil authorities will also be contacted.