In a landmark move toward accountability, Pope Francis has established new norms that provide for the dismissal of bishops when they demonstrate “lack of diligence” in protecting minors or vulnerable adults from the sexual abuse of priests.
The norms say a bishop does not need to have “grave morally culpability” in order to be removed; serious negligence by the bishop is enough.
Current church law provides for removal of bishops for “very grave cause.” The new norms state that in the cases of sexual abuse, removal can be for “grave cause.” This slight wording change is considered significant.
According to Vatican Radio, it effectively lowers the standard needed for a bishop to be removed from office in such cases. It certainly puts bishops on notice that their actions or lack of them will receive greater scrutiny in Rome.
The pope can decide to remove bishops on his own. But the new norms provide for a college of jurists to assist him in these cases. It will be made up of bishops and cardinals, presumably appointed by the pope.
Vatican Radio said that according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, the question of retroactivity “does not apply” because the pope’s apostolic letter concerns new procedural norms. It will be interesting to see if that holds true. There have been many accusations of negligence against bishops who allegedly failed to protect children and who continue to hold office.