"Vos estis lux mundi" has been, since 2019, the framework document in which the entire Catholic Church has established the consequent protocols for welcoming, listening, healing and denouncing in cases of sexual abuse by consecrated persons: religious, priests or nuns.
Now, Pope Francis has confirmed this line of action with the publication of the definitive version of this document aimed at preventing and combating the phenomenon of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
The new version of the Motu Proprio "Vos estis lux mundi"will enter into force on April 30 and repeals the preceding one of May 2019. Among the key novelties included in this new document is the inclusion of the responsibility of lay people who have been moderators of associations of the faithful, the change of term and definition of "vulnerable adults" or the inclusion of abuse of power as another of the offenses.
News of the definitive version of "Vos estis lux mundi".
Responsibility of the laity
The new version of this Motu Proprio introduces a significant novelty referring specifically to "Title II", with the provisions concerning the responsibilities of bishops, religious superiors and clerics entrusted with the guidance of a particular Church or prelature.
On this point, the new version includes responsibilities also for "lay faithful who are or have been moderators of international associations of the faithful recognized or erected by the Apostolic See, for acts committed" while exercising their office.
Another novel point concerns the expansion of the definition of "vulnerable" adults. While the 2019 document spoke of "sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person," this new version speaks of "offense against the VI commandment of the Decalogue committed with a minor or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason or with a vulnerable adult."
Another modification concerns the protection of the person who reports an alleged abuse: while previously it was stated that the person who reports the abuse cannot be bound to silence, now it is added that this protection must also be extended to "the person who claims to be offended and to witnesses".
Presumption of innocence and abuse of authority
It also reinforces the part that calls for safeguarding "the legitimate protection of the good name and private sphere of all persons involved", as well as the presumption of innocence for those under investigation pending the determination of their responsibilities.
The new version of "Vos estis lux mundi" also specifies that dioceses and eparchies must have "bodies and offices" - the old text spoke more generically of "stable systems" - easily accessible to the public to receive reports of abuse. And it is also specified that the task of proceeding with the investigation is the duty of the bishop of the place where the reported events are said to have occurred.
In the same way, in 2019 it was already established in a precise way how to behave in the face of accusations of abuse cases and ensure that bishops and religious superiors - now also the laity at the head of international associations - are accountable for their actions and are obliged - with a universally established legal precept - to report abuses of which they have become aware.
The document included and continues to include not only nuisance and violence against minors and vulnerable adults, but also refers to sexual violence and nuisance arising from abuse of authority. Therefore, this obligation also includes any case of violence against women religious by clerics, as well as the case of molestation of seminarians or novices of legal age.
A large part of the modifications of this new version have been introduced to harmonize the text of the procedures against abuses with the other normative reforms introduced from 2019 until today, in particular with the revision of the motu proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela"; with the modifications of the Book VI of the Code of Canon Law and with the new Constitution on the Roman Curia, "...".Praedicate Evangelium".
The 2019 document
On May 7, 2019, Pope Francis issued the apostolic letter in the form of Motu Proprio "Vos estis lux mundi" which established the fundamental guidelines of the Catholic Church in the fight against and prevention of sexual abuse by clerics and religious.
Among the norms included at the time was the obligation for all dioceses to have "stable and publicly accessible systems for reporting cases of sexual abuse and cover-ups," the introduction of reporting procedures in the case of abuse by a bishop, and going a step further in the consideration of "vulnerable persons" and the establishment of listening and reception systems.
Already at that time, the document was established as experimental for a three-year period. It has been in force for little more than four years. The culmination of the reform of the curia and the subsequent promulgation of Praedicate Evangelium has been key in the redefinition of this document.