Dear Friends in Christ,
Along with my fellow bishops in the United States, I welcome Pope Francis’ motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world),” which was released on May 9, 2019. The document clearly expresses the serious desire and commitment of the Holy Father to prevent sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable persons as well as abuses carried out with violence, threat or abuse of authority in our Church. It establishes new universal procedures for reporting sexual abuse and violence committed by clergy, and ensures that we bishops and the superiors of religious congregations are held accountable for our actions.
The document obliges clerics as well as men and women religious in the Church throughout the world to report abuse to competent ecclesiastical authorities. Reported cases must be promptly verified and handled in accordance with canon law. In order to improve coordination between dioceses and the Holy See, all dioceses must establish within a year a stable and publicly accessible system of reporting sexual abuse committed by clerics or religious, the possession or distribution of child pornography, the use of violence to coerce adults into sex as well as cover-ups of the same abuse. The new law leaves the details of the reporting up to each individual diocese.
An extraordinary measure in the motu proprio dictates that when a bishop mishandles a case he is responsible for investigating, he himself becomes liable to be investigated for the cover up. Also, the document calls for any claim of sexual misconduct by a bishop or religious superior to be reported to the Holy See and to the metropolitan bishop (an archbishop who is also responsible for a broader geographic area than his archdiocese alone, which is the Archdiocese of San Francisco for us in Utah).
The motu proprio comes just two months after all the Episcopal Conference presidents and supreme moderators of the main religious institutes from all over the world met with Pope Francis in Rome to collaboratively reflect, study and discuss the Church sex abuse crisis. As Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in his press release on May 9, the motu proprio is “a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing.”
I am convinced that the action Pope Francis took by instituting this needed reform is quite significant, as it provides meaningful policies for transparency and accountability in order to promote healing and ensure justice for the victims, and it is an important step for the universal Church to move forward.
Here in the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, my predecessor, the Most Rev. William K. Weigand, implemented a child abuse policy in 1993 that required all diocesan personnel to comply with applicable state and local laws regarding incidents of suspected or actual child abuse. This policy outlined the process of how complaints and allegations were to be handled, as well as preventative steps to be taken.
In subsequent years this policy has been updated in line with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was promulgated in 2002. The diocesan policy is currently being reviewed again, with the updated release scheduled for later this year. The updates to the diocesan policy will take place after the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Plenary Assembly in June 2019, when measures for the effective implementation of the motu proprio will be discussed. Once the appropriate measures are approved for implementation, these will be included in the updated policy for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
In addition to this policy, earlier this year the diocese conducted a thorough internal review of its clergy files and voluntarily published on our diocesan website a list of those against whom a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been reported since 1950; this list was reported in a local daily newspaper. We remain committed not only to ensuring the health and safety of young people within our community but also to confronting this issue of sexual abuse with continued transparency and accountability.
We are grateful to Pope Francis for this important document and want to assure people that our diocese continues to treat allegations of abuse seriously and reports them immediately to civil and ecclesiastical authorities. There will be no excuses, and cover-up will not be tolerated. Hence, anyone who has been a victim of abuse or exploitation by clergy, religious or lay Church personnel and has not yet reported the incident is encouraged to do so. The diocese’s victim assistance coordinator is available to assist in making a report. The contact number of the victim assistance coordinator is 801-328-8641 ext. 344.
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
The Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis
Bishop of Salt Lake City