Federico Lombardi chief of Holy See press office


Fr. Lombardi's Note on Document Clarifying Removal of Bishops Due to Negligence

Group of legal experts to assist the Holy Father is a novelty

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Explanatory Note by Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, on the Apostolic Letter “Like a loving mother” (June 4, 2016)
The Apostolic Letter insists on the importance of vigilant care in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, which requires a “special diligence”. Therefore, it specifies that negligence regarding cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults is included among the “grave causes” that justify the removal from ecclesiastical offices, including Episcopal office.
It is a Law that establishes the procedure to be followed for the implementation of a Canon already present in the CIC and the CCEO (193§1 CIC, 975§1 CCEO). It is not a criminal procedure since it does not regard a “crime” committed, but rather cases of negligence on the part of bishops or religious Superiors.
The “investigation” in cases of negligence is to be carried out by the competent Congregations, of which there are four:
The Evangelization of Peoples
Oriental Churches Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not included as this does not regard cases of abuse, but rather of negligence in office.
Disciplinary or similar Offices already exist within the Congregations.
Two points are noteworthy:
– Diligence may be lacking even “without grave moral culpability” on the part of the Bishop (art. 1§2).
– For removal from office, in the case of abuse of minors, “it is sufficient for the lack of diligence to be grave” (art.1§3), while in other cases a “very grave” lack of diligence must be demonstrated (art.1§2).
Since this relates to important decisions involving bishops, specific approval depends on the Holy Father (which is not a novelty).
However, a new aspect is the constitution of a dedicated special College of legal experts, to assist the Holy Father before assuming a definitive decision. It is expected that this College will be constituted of Cardinals and Bishops.
Note: as this law regards procedure, it does not present issues as to whether application will be retroactive or otherwise, since the law providing for removal for office on the grounds of “grave causes” already exists. From now on the procedure for the application of Canon 193 §1 is that which has hereby been established.

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