Vatican Corner 04-07-2019

With his apostolic letter of March 29, 2019, Pope Francis established new legal procedures to better protect minors and vulnerable adults within the Vatican City State. While there are few minors living in the Vatican, there are minors in the Sistine Chapel Choir, in the pediatric hospital, and in the pre-seminary, all controlled by the Vatican. There is actually an ongoing investigation begun in 2017 at the St. Pius X pre-seminary of allegations that a future priest abused a younger fellow student. The new law covers all forms of physical and emotional abuse, not just sexual abuse, and includes mistreatment, neglect, abandonment and exploitation against minors under the age of 18 and vulnerable adults. The act covers any Vatican public official, employee, diplomat, personnel, clergy, chaplain, assistant, volunteer, as well as lay people residing in the Vatican. The law requires “without delay” reporting abuse learned about or suspected. A failure or “wrongful delay” in reporting can result in a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 euros for a “public official” and up to six months in jail for a policeman or official. Anyone can make a report. Crimes against minors are automatically prosecutable. The statute of limitations is 20 years after the victim turns 18. The new law includes, among other things: appointment of a Contact Person for prevention of abuse and training officials and workers, support services and protection for the alleged victim, instruction on how investigations and trials should be conducted so they are fair and maintain a presumption of innocence for the accused, and obligation for background checks in the selection and hiring of Vatican personnel and volunteers. The law includes prohibiting: corporal punishment; photographing, filming or contacting a minor by phone, online or through social media without written parental consent, being alone or out of sight of others when with a minor or vulnerable adult and showing favoritism to one child with gifts. For credible accusations the suspected perpetrator is to be removed from pastoral activity. Pope Francis has amended the Code of Canon Law to include an automatic dismissal of a member of a religious order who is absent without authorization from their community for at least 12 months. This change will go into effect on April 10, 2019 and is not retroactive. The current law states that “a member must be held as ipso facto dismissed from an institute” if they “defected notoriously from the Catholic faith” or have married or attempted to marry. The Pope wrote that “community life is an essential element of religious life and religious are to live in their own religious house and are not to be absent from it except with the permission of their superior.” After six months of absence, Canon Law instructs superiors to do everything they can to find the person to help them “return to and persevere in his or her vocation.” Archbishop Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said that in most cases men in women are given temporary permission to leave, but they never returned. Unless they have requested a dispensation from their vows or have been dismissed, they legally are still part of the order. They can find themselves in situations incompatible with religious life or can demonstrate behavior in contrast with it.” Also their life outside the community could have implications of “an economic nature that could harm the institute,” which is why the Church needed a process for the order to initiate the dismissal.