· Vatican City ·

A text that will be kept up to date with contributions from local Churches

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Presentation of the Document by the Prefect

17 July 2020

The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presents the new Vademecum for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The following is a translation from the original Italian.

The “Vademecum on certain points of procedure in treating cases of sexual abuse of minors committed  by  clerics”  is  the  result  of  numerous  requests  sent  by  Bishops,  Ordinaries,  Superiors  of Institutes  of  consecrated  life  and  Societies  of  apostolic  life to  the  Congregation  for  the  Doctrine  of  the Faith,  to  have  at  their  disposal  a  tool  that  could  help  them  in  the  delicate  task  of  correctly  conducting cases regarding deacons, priests and bishops when they are accused of the sexual abuse of minors. Recent history attests to greater attention on the part of the Church regarding this scourge. The course of justice cannot alone exhaust the Church’s response, but it is necessary in order to come to the truth of the facts. This is a complex path that leads into a dense forest of norms and procedures before which Ordinaries and Superiors sometimes find themselves lacking the certainty of how to proceed.

    Thus, the Vademecum was primarily written for them, as well as for legal professionals who help them handle the cases. This is not a normative text. No new law is being promulgated, nor are new norms being issued. It is, instead, an “instruction manual” that intends to help whoever has to deal with concrete cases  from  the  beginning  to  the  end,  that  is,  from  the  first  notification  of  a  possible  crime  (notitia  de delicto) to the definitive conclusion of the case (res iudicata). Between these two points there are periods of time that must be observed, steps to complete, communication to be given, decisions to take.

    The  request  for  this  tool  was  formalized  during  the  global  Meeting  of  the  Presidents  of  the Episcopal  Conferences  on  the  Protection  of  Minors  in  the  Church  (21-24  February  2019).  On  that occasion,  the  Holy  Father  provided 21  Reflection  Points to  direct  the  work.  The  first  of  these  points states: “To  prepare  a  practical  handbook  indicating  the  steps  to  be  taken  by  authorities  at  key  moments when a case emerges.” The proposal was picked up and reaffirmed by the participants. Thus, during the final  press  conference,  the  preparation  of  such  a  text  was  included  among  the  concrete  proposals  to  be implemented.

    The  sources  for  this  text  are  both  juridical  and  practical.  On  the  normative  level,  the  principal references  are  the  current  Code  of  Canon  Law,  the Substantive  Norms and  procedural  norms  regarding delicts  (crimes)  reserved  to  the  Congregation  for  the  Doctrine  of  the  Faith  promulgated  by  the  Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (2001, updated in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI), and the more recent Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi (2019).

    Alongside  these  normative  texts  is  another  source  for  the Vademecum:  the  praxis  of  the Congregation, matured over the  course of the  years, particularly  from 2001 on, in which the first  norms appeared that were specifically  dedicated to the  more serious  crimes. The Congregation  availed itself of the  contribution  of  numerous  canonists,  both  internal  and  external  to  the  Congregation,  from  local  and diocesan  tribunals,  who,  through  the  years,  have  conducted investigations  and  processes  by  mandate  of the Congregation. At this point, this praxis has been consolidated and matured.

    This version of the Vademecum now being released is designated as version “1.0”, a number that indicates future updates. Being a “manual,” it will need to follow the eventual developments of the normative  canons,  and  will  need  to  be  adapted.  It  will  also  need  to  respond  to  new  challenges  that experience will offer to the juridical treatment of the cases in question. Lastly, it will need to treasure the considerations  that  arrive  from  the  various  ecclesiastical  realities:  dioceses,  institutes,  ecclesiastical faculties,  counselling centres  set  up  at  diocesan  and  inter-diocesan  levels.  Their  qualified  contribution  will help to correct, integrate, specify and clarify those points that, as is only natural, require deeper reflection.

  Luis F. Ladaria Ferrer, SJ