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Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta © Vatican Media

Exclusive Interview: Motu Proprio ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’ “Is a Step of the Church for Clarity and Transparency”

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts Tells ZENIT

With the publication of the Motu ProprioVos Estis Lux Mundi,” Pope Francis has established new measures, which must be adopted, to prevent and combat sexual abuses committed against minors, against vulnerable persons or committed with violence, threats or the abuse of authority.

Among them — explains Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta in an exclusive interview with Zenit — is the obligation of Clerics and Religious to denounce to the ecclesiastical authority, the obligation of Bishops to establish in their diocese a place to collect denunciations or the measures of protection for a denouncer, and the protection of persons who say they have been abused.

The Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts opines that the promulgation of this new law of the Pope “is a step of the Church for clarity and transparency” and is “something that obliges all inside the Church, the priests and religious, to observe this type of transparency.” This “obliges all to live the truth; it obliges us to take it seriously and to live it with clarity.”

Priest of the Prelature of the Holy Cross

Monsignor Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, born on April 10, 1951 in Vitoria, Spain, has been Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts since February 15, 2007.

He was ordained priest for the Prelature of the Holy Cross (Opus Dei) on August 23, 1977. He received his Doctorate in Canon Law and Law from the University of Navarre and worked as Professor of Canon Law, first at the University of Navarre (Spain) and then in Rome and Venice.

Here is a translation of the exclusive interview that Monsignor Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, gave to Zenit.

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ZENIT: What is a Motu Proprio?

Bishop Arrieta: It’s a type of law of the Church. The laws of the Church have different names: Apostolic Constitutions, Motu Proprio is a law. It points out that it’s something that the Pope has done on his own initiative.

ZENIT: What difference is there between this Motu Proprio of the Pope and the Vademecum that is being prepared or has been prepared for Bishops, also regarding the protection of minors?

Bishop Arrieta: Normally, a Motu Proprio establishes concrete laws and obligations, which are compulsory and, normally, the Vademecum inspires conducts in general, that is, it indicates in general how to act. That is, this law can say: when someone learns that someone of the clergy, etc. has done this, he must denounce him to an ecclesiastical authority. In other words, it’s a legal mandate done by a law. The Vademecum can also say this, but it’s less precise, it’s more dialogical, it’s more narrative; that is, the law establishes juridical obligations; normally, a Vademecum points out behaviours.

ZENIT: Is it known when the Vademecum will be published?

Bishop Arrieta: It’s not known, but it’s probable that it will be at the end of the year because they are working on it, they are elaborating it . . . To do things in the Church, especially listening to all, calls for moving in shorter terms because when Episcopal Conferences are asked, for example, to send their opinion on something, they cannot be given two months to respond because in two months only four Conferences will respond of the 120 or 130 that exist.

Episcopal Conferences meet twice a year, so that, when an opinion is asked of an Episcopal Conference, one must calculate that the rhythms of work are those. I don’t know when it will come out, I haven’t seen a draft, <it will be> worse if they have asked the Episcopal Conferences, as they have that rhythm of work.

ZENIT: What are the main novelties of this document to prevent and eradicate abuses?

Bishop Arrieta: This is a document geared to protect the information safely in regard to possible denunciations. Its objective is to protect the information.

What novelties does it have? 1. The obligation of Clerics and Religious to denounce to the ecclesiastical authority. 2. The obligation of Bishops to establish in their diocese or a place to collect denunciations; the obligation of Ordinaries to make this denunciation reach to Bishop or the competent Ordinary of the place where the deeds were committed. 3. It also establishes measures of protection for the denouncer, which is important. That is, one who denounces is protected by a series of measures, namely, that he can’t be the object of extortion, that he can’t be the object of discrimination . . . etc. 4. Also included are measures of protection and tutelage of persons who say they have been abused, no? It’s the general part — the first part of the document.

However there is another very important part: all this, when it’s about priests who have their Bishop, who is in a diocese, for example, of Spain or France, who is very close to the Bishop; however, when it’s about Bishops who are around the world, in the five Continents, there is a problem, because we, Bishops, depend on the Pope, not on the Bishop who is in Lugo or wherever he is, then the news has to arrive; on one hand, it has to arrive in Rome, because it’s the Pope who must <exert> control. One must ensure that the <information> arrives well in Rome from the place where the deeds took place and, at the same time, seen increasingly is the necessity that an investigation be carried out in the place where the deeds were committed, because it’s where the circumstances are known better (India is not the same as the United States or Zambia). Therefore, all the second part, which is very articulated, is geared to this. Addressed there <also> is that the channels be more than one, that there are several informed persons . . . that the information be shared, that there be deadlines so that the laity can also be involved . . .

ZENIT: The dioceses must establish a stable and easily accessible system to the public to present the reports, but at the same time, this information must be well protected so that it’s security, integrity and confidentiality is guaranteed. How will this system work?

Bishop Arrieta: Reference is made to some articles; there are some canons that are cannons which state how the documentation must be protected in the Church’s tribunals or in the chancelleries, in the diocesan Curias. That is, there are some criteria and they are the same criteria of protection that are applied in marriage tribunals or in the Curia’s tribunals.

These systems must be public and accessible. What is being said now is that there must be a place where one can denounce in a free, safe and accessible way. That’s a novelty.

ZENIT: Specified in article 3 of the Motu Proprio is that “each time that a cleric or a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life or of a Society of Apostolic Life has news or well-founded reasons to believe that that one of the deeds mentioned in Article 1 has been committed, he/she has the obligation to inform the Ordinary of the place about it without delay.” However, it also specifies that except in cases foreseen in Canon 1548 (point 2) which states that clerics are excepted from declaring the truth to the judge in what has been confided to them by reason of the sacred ministry, namely, in the secret of Confession. How should a priest act who knows about the deeds?

Bishop Arrieta: This is an ecclesiastical law, a law made by the Pope. And the Pope can impose what he can impose. He can’t change it? He cannot change the sacramental seal, because it’s a divine law. Which can’t be changed either? Grave moral obligations, that is, this law imposes also the moral obligation to respect it. But of course, it’s an obligation that depends on the duty I have. If I’m a doctor, a doctor who is a priest or a priest who, outside of Confession, because a person has confided secret information in an ambit of conscience, there are a series of duties, which an ecclesiastical law can’t take away from one.

The law can get to where it can get, it’s an ecclesiastical law, which must also be respected morally, but of course, morality has its links there, in the measure of each one’s conscience. What it does say specifically is that is frees from the secret of office.

A priest to whom a case of abuses of this type has been revealed in Confession, cannot denounce the penitent, either because of Confession or because of grave spiritual direction. However, if I learn, playing cards with someone or engaging in sports with another or taking a walk and someone comments to me and so I learn something, that’s already outside spiritual direction and I have the obligation, but if it is because of office, if a find a letter or it’s something that I receive, then yes. Now, if a person comes to me, in spiritual direction, also outside of Confession, and talks to me about these sorts of things, it’s up to me according to the gravity of the matter to say ”you denounce it” or say it in another way, but it’s a context in which I  — the priestly secret is not only the sacramental seal but it depends on the entity of the matter or of the context of how things were confided to one, and it’s the same thing that happens to a doctor, to a lawyer . . .

ZENIT: On the question of the prescription of the deeds, is there a novelty in this document?

Bishop Arrieta: There is no novelty in this document. Prescription means that once the time has passed a specific crime can’t be prosecuted, and the idea is not to free the alleged culprit of that crime or to give him a way out, but because it’s enormously difficult, when time has passed, to accuse and to defend oneself.  It’s easier to accuse than to defend oneself because I don’t know what I was doing a year ago or where I was ten years ago. It’s easier to mount an accusation than to mount a defense. The presumption of innocence must also be observed. Justice is a human justice and it has to judge with human data. In fact, this type of crime of abuses on minors, in some countries (very few) is imprescriptible. In the majority is has prescription. They also have prescription in the Church, which is 20 years, but when the person is 18.

Moreover, in the Church the prescription can be dispensed with. In various cases: in the case of the Legionaries, in the Karadima case, in several cases, cases that happened in the 80s, for which the prescription is being lifted, as something exceptional.

ZENIT: The document is also addressed to men and women religious. What concrete functions must Superiors of Religious Orders and Congregations assume?

Bishop Arrieta: The novelty here is that up to now all grave crimes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith knew concerned clerics, <but> didn’t concern Religious who weren’t clerics or nuns.  This new law has not made the acts of nuns or clerics grave crimes; the grave crimes are only those of clerics, for the time being. However, this law makes it possible to denounce not only those of clerics but also those of nuns and of men religious. And of course, even if they are not crimes prosecuted only by Canon Law, because in Canon Law the Canon exacts that they be clerics, but they are also acts of the same kind, which will have to be sanctioned by the Congregation of Religious Institutes.

Of the Religious Institutes, some are of diocesan right and other Religious Institutes of men and women are of Pontifical Right. Sometimes there are small Congregations that have been born in a diocese, which respond to the Bishop, where they have their Founding House. Depending on what type they are, in some cases they respond to the Bishop and in others to the Pope. And there are Religious clerics of diocesan right that depend on the Bishop, on his diocese.

ZENIT: How do you, who are an expert in legislative texts, think that this Motu Proprio will help in Pope Francis’ commitment to eradicate abuses in the heart of the Church?

Bishop Arrieta: I believe that this is a step of the Church for clarity and transparency and it’s something that obliges all inside the Church, the Priests and the Religious, to observe this type of transparency. There is a question, for example, in the first Article, in the second paragraph, one of the conducts that must be denounced, is that of Bishops or authorities that interfere, that cover (cover-up) criminal or administrative information. For example, when to promote someone to a post, they don’t know that there has been a deed of this sort and one stay silent. Of course, this might not be easy to denounce, but one knows he is concealing it. And, sooner or later, it’s discovered. This obliges all to live the truth; it obliges us to take it seriously, and to live it with clarity.

Another thing that’s important is Article 19. It states that this whole law is without prejudice of the duty Bishops or the faithful have to denounce in the countries where there is the obligation to denounce, countries where the treatment of this type of things, the State wants to have denounced. Anyone who is in the know must denounce. There are some, they aren’t many.  There are countries, instead, which say for example that parents must denounce, that the one concerned must denounce. Why?  Well, because they also try to protect the intimacy of the family. In those countries, for example, the Bishop can’t denounce one because, of course, if one denounces, one can be denounced to one’s family. It’s complicated.

[Interview done in Spanish; Working Translation by Virginia Forrester]

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