Official Curial or Papal Documents

A complete compilation of documents, homilies, and other forms of communication regarding the Abuse of Minors and the Church’s Response can be found using this link. Here are a selected few that are more pertinent to the Meeting on the Protection of Minors

Apostolic Letter issued “Motu Proprio” Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela

Pope John Paul II, 30 April 2001

With this Motu Proprio, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation of the Faith. Sexual abuse of minors committed by a deacon, priest or bishop is added to those considered to be “most grave delicts,” and placed under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Article 6, § 1. The more grave delicts against morals which are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are:

“1° the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years; in this number, a person who habitually has the imperfect use of reason is to considered equivalent to a minor.”

The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, Apostolorum Succesores

Congregation for Bishops, 2004, Art 209

This document is an updated and revised Directory of a previous one issued in 1973 and prepared by the Congregation for Bishops. It is meant to help bishops “exercise more fruitfully every aspect of their complex and difficult pastoral ministry in the Church and in the modern world. It is intended to help the Bishops to address, with humble trust in God and with constant courage, the challenges and new problems of the present day, amid the great progress and the rapid changes that mark the beginning of this third millennium” (Introduction).

“The modern world manifests grave forms of injustice caused by an ever increasing disparity between rich and poor; by an unjust economic system through which, in many parts of the world, people suffer from hunger and growing numbers become marginalized, while in other parts there is great wealth; by the horrors of war which continually threaten the peace and stability of the international community; by the discrimination which men suffer at the hands of other men; and by the degradation of women, on the one hand by a hedonistic and materialistic culture and on the other by the refusal to recognize their fundamental rights as persons."

“In the face of these challenges, the Bishop is called to be a prophet of justice and peace, a defender of the inalienable rights of the human person. He does this by proclaiming the Church’s teaching, especially in defence of the right to life from conception to natural death; in defence of human dignity; and, taking to heart the defence of the weak, he lends his voice to those who have no voice of their own, to assert their rights. In the same way, the Bishop needs to condemn vigorously all forms of violence and to raise his voice in favour of those who are unemployed, oppressed, persecuted or humiliated, and in favour of children who suffer grave abuse.”

Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict to the Catholics of Ireland

19 March 2010

Pope Benedict XVI addresses his “brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland” after several reports were made public regarding “the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious”. He summarized his meeting with the Bishops of Ireland and acknowledges “the gravity of these offenses, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country”. Pope Benedict writes that he has met with victims in the past and will continue to do so.

“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.”

“To priests and religious who have abused children: You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.

“I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing.”

Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Pope Benedict XVI, 21 May 2010

“After a serious and attentive study of the proposed changes, the Cardinals and Bishops Members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented the results of their decisions to the Supreme Pontiff and, on 21 May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval and ordered the promulgation of the revised text”.(From Historical Introduction, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

 The changes introduced are both substantive and procedural. They now include the “acquisition, possession, or distribution” of child pornography.

 “Article 6, § 1, 2° the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology.”

Circular Letter To Assist Episcopal Conferences In Developing Guidelines For Dealing With Cases Of Sexual Abuses Of Minors Perpetrated By Clerics

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 3 May 2011

Because of the responsibility that the diocesan bishop has “of assuring the common good of the faithful and, especially, the protection of children and of the young,” this document was written in order to help diocesan bishops respond appropriately “to the cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics” in their dioceses (see the Introduction). Specifically, it encourages episcopal conferences to develop Guidelines which “will lead to a common orientation within each Episcopal Conference helping to better harmonize the resources of single Bishops in safeguarding minors” (from the Conclusion).

“The Church, in the person of the Bishop or his delegate, should be prepared to listen to the victims and their families, and to be committed to their spiritual and psychological assistance. In the course of his Apostolic trips our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, has given an eminent model of this with his availability to meet with and listen to the victims of sexual abuse. In these encounters the Holy Father has focused his attention on the victims with words of compassion and support, as we read in his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland (n.6): ‘You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.’ ”

“The Guidelines developed by Episcopal Conferences seek to protect minors and to help victims in finding assistance and reconciliation. They will also indicate that the responsibility for dealing with the delicts of sexual abuse of minors by clerics belongs in the first place to the Diocesan Bishop. Finally, the Guidelines will lead to a common orientation within each Episcopal Conference helping to better harmonize the resources of single Bishops in safeguarding minors.”

Apostolic Letter issued “Motu Proprio” As a Loving Mother

Pope Francis, 4 June 2016

The Church,like a loving mother, loves all her children, but treats and protects with special affection the smallest and most helpless. This is a task that Christ Himself entrusts to all the Christian community as a whole. Although this care and protection is the responsibility of all the Church, the Holy Father [Pope Francis] emphasises that it is to be carried out in particular through her pastors. Therefore, diocesan bishops, eparchs and those who are responsible for a particular Church must act with special diligence in the protection of the weakest among those entrusted to them”….

By this Motu Proprio, Pope Francis specifies that one of the "grave causes" by which a bishop or his equivalent can be removed from office is that of negligence specifically “in relation to cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, as referred to in the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, promulgated by St. John Paul II and amended by Benedict XVI, and establishes a series of procedures to be followed” if a bishop is found negligent in this area. (Citations from a Bulletin issued by the Press Office of the Holy See on 4 June 2016).

“Article 1, § 1. The diocesan Bishop or Eparch, or one who even holds a temporary title and is responsible for a Particular Church, or other community of faithful that is its legal equivalent, according to can. 368 CIC or can. 313 CCEO, can be legitimately removed from this office if he has through negligence committed or through omission facilitated acts that have caused grave harm to others, either to physical persons or to the community as a whole. The harm may be physical, moral, spiritual or through the use of patrimony.

Ҥ 2. The diocesan Bishop or Eparch can only be removed if he is objectively lacking in a very grave manner the diligence that his pastoral office demands of him, even without serious moral fault on his part.

“§ 3. In the case of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults it is enough that the lack of diligence be grave.”

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God

20 August 2018

Letter written by Pope Francis after the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. In it, he reminds the People of God that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

“The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

“In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away.”

“I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”

“It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.”

Letter sent by the Holy Father to the Bishops of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops

1 January 2019

Letter written to Pope Francis on the occasion of a week-long retreat made by the Bishops of the United States at the invitation of Pope Francis.

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

“We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion; and this can often serve as an excuse for some to discredit and call into question the selfless lives of all those many Christians who show “an immense love for humanity inspired by the God who became man” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 76). Whenever the Gospel message proves inconvenient or disturbing, many voices are raised in an attempt to silence that message by pointing to the sins and inconsistencies of the members of the Church and, even more, of her pastors.

“The hurt caused by these sins and crimes has also deeply affected the communion of bishops, and generated not the sort of healthy and necessary disagreements and tensions found in any living body, but rather division and dispersion (cf. Mt 26:31).”

New Vatican State Law on the protection of minors 26 Mai 2019

26 March 2019

The new (Vatican State) law in which the first article contains a precise and broad definition of “vulnerable adults” who are equated to minors: “Any person in a state of infirmity, of physical or mental deficiency, or of deprivation of personal liberty which in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to intend or to will or in any case to resist the offense is vulnerable". (Vatican News, 29 March 2019)

The Pastoral Guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City

26 March 2019

They may appear as a brief document when compared to similar texts of some Episcopal Conferences, but it should be remembered that there are only two parishes in the Vatican and that there are only a few dozen minors living there. The Guidelines are addressed to the priests, deacons and educators of the Saint Pius X Pre-Seminary, to the canons, parish priests and coadjutors of the two parishes, to the religious men and women who reside in the Vatican as well as to “all those who work in any capacity, as an individual or with an association, within the ecclesial community of the Vicariate of Vatican City”. (Vatican News, 29 March 2019)

Motu proprio of Pope Francis

8 May 2019

Pope Francis’ Motu proprio, "Vos estis lux mundi", establishes new procedures for reporting abuse and violence, and ensures that Bishops and Religious Superiors are held accountable for their actions. It includes the obligation for clerics and religious to report abuse. Every Diocese must have a system that allows the public to submit reports easily (Vatican News, 9 May 2019).

„Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every believer to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness. All of us, in fact, are called to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.

The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. In order thatthese phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission. This becomes possible only with the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, as we must always keep in mind the words of Jesus: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future.“

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