Cardinal Cupich: Pope’s ‘Vos Estis’ update seeks to give justice to abuse victims
By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis has released an updated version of his 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which offers specific procedures to regulate the Church’s actions to counter sexual abuse.
The Holy See Press Office published the new text on Saturday, which enters into force on 30 April and replaces the version released in May 2019.
In the following interview with Vatican News, American-born Cardinal Blase Cupich describes a few of the important changes made to the original text of Vos Estis.
The Archbishop of Chicago, who also serves as a member of the Vatican’s task force for the protection of minors, says the updated document shows the Pope’s desire to protect victims of abuse and to give them justice.
Q: What are the main changes made to the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi to promote its "better application" almost four years after its entry into force?
I first of all would observe that it is not a new document, but it is a confirmation of what the Holy Father did in the original motu proprio, and it takes advantage of the experience of the Church throughout the world as the norms of Vos Estis have been applied.
So, I think it's important to realize that this now is permanent. It's not ad experimentum. It confirms what the Holy Father did originally.
I think that the other thing that needs to be understood here is that the document is the result of broad consultation and learning from the experience of other Churches. That is why there have been some developments; for instance, the addition of laypeople in lay associations that now are also under the guidelines of Vos Estis.
It also makes sure that it's very clear that those who are vulnerable adults also would include those who lack the mental capacity and would be taken advantage of in such circumstances. The document itself, I think, reflects that the Church has taken this seriously and is learning from its own experience.
Q: The norms now apply not only to clerics and religious but also to "lay people who are or have been moderators of international associations of the faithful recognized or created by the Apostolic See". What does this signify?
It means that we recognize that abuse of people who are underage or who are vulnerable adults can happen in those lay associations. So, they also have to be protected.
The point is not to zero in just on a certain group of people in the Church, but to make the victims of abuse the primary focus of attention. And so, anytime there is an action against someone who is vulnerable or a young person, the Church is taking that seriously, whether it comes by virtue of the actions of a cleric or a layperson.
Q: The text also specifies that Dioceses and Eparchies must operate an "organisation or office" (the earlier version spoke in general about a "stable system") which is easily accessible to the public in order to receive reports of cases of abuse...
That's right. Of course, in the United States, all of the dioceses already have those. But that's not the case worldwide.
Again, learning from the experience of other Churches, not only do bishops have to act in such cases, but there should be a way that makes it user friendly for anyone to come forward, and that is through the establishment of an actual office, a means by which it's very public that people would be able to approach in the case of abuse.
Q: It is specified that "it is the duty of the Ordinary of the place where the events allegedly occurred to proceed in accordance with the law as provided for each specific case". What changes with this?
I think that just re-emphasizes what we saw in the original Vos Estis, and that is that the Church puts a priority in cooperating with local law enforcement and following the laws of the land. So, if there are reporting protocols like there would be here in the United States, it emphasizes that those laws have to be observed.
This is not just a Church matter. This is not just a matter of a sin. This is a crime. And it recognizes that these crimes have to be adjudicated by law enforcement in each locality.
Q: What progress—thanks to this motu proprio—has been made in recent years in the fight against abuse in the Church?
I think that you have seen, at least in the United States and elsewhere, the scandal of abuse surely involved the violation of young people and vulnerable adults. But that scandal was greatly compounded by the irresponsible way some leaders in the Church handled these matters.
And I think that this document is a clear indication that the Holy Father is saying that people in authority in the Church are going to be held responsible for how they handle this. And there are specific requirements that they have to observe, but also they have been required to provide their own guidelines for their own country that also involves their own dioceses.
So, it's a clear indication that the Holy Father is going to hold people responsible, not only those who have committed abuse, but those in authority who have responsibility for handling them in a way that protects victims and gives justice to victims.