Title: Francis’ clergy abuse law, ‘Vos Estis,’ isn’t working. Here’s how to fix it.
Three years ago, as the Catholic Church faced an unprecedented reckoning with clergy sexual abuse, Pope Francis introduced a church law that promised to hold bishops and religious superiors accountable for abuse that they commit or cover up.
Entitled Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You Are the Light of the World”), the law was touted by papal spokesmen as a turning point in the fight to end child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
It’s “revolutionary,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich.
“The silence, omertà and cover-ups can now become a thing of the past,” said Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the pope’s trusted abuse investigator.
Vos Estis, a motu proprio that was signed on May 9, 2019, was originally enacted for a three-year trial period that ends this June 1. As we wait to see if Francis will now make the law permanent, it is a good time to assess what will likely be this pope’s most significant response to the Catholic abuse crisis.
So far, the Vatican has released no information about the number or names of bishops investigated under Vos Estis. BishopAccountability.org has been able to identify 28 cases where it has been used to process allegations of cover-up or abuse by bishops. We hope it is being used more widely than this — there are 5,600 living Catholic bishops! — but we can’t be sure.
At least 11 of the Vos Estis or Vos Estis-like cases have been in the United States. Two of these bishops have been sanctioned, three have been “cleared,” and six face ongoing probes.
But the largest concentration of cases, interestingly, has been in Poland, where Vos Estisprocedures have been applied against 16 of the country’s 209 active or retired bishops. Eleven appear to have been found guilty by the Vatican of negligence, with sanctions announced in eight of these cases; one archbishop “self-punished”; two others have been cleared; and two other cases are ongoing.