Plan to draw up sanctions for bishops in abuse cases

Church’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to prioritise ‘bishop accountability’

Pope Francis during a visit to a refugee camp this week in Rome. Photograph:  Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis during a visit to a refugee camp this week in Rome. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images


The Holy See’s Commission for the Protection of Minors officially acknowledged yesterday that one of the first issues it intends to address is “bishop accountability”.

Essentially, this entails the implementation of disciplinary sanctions against those bishops who cover up for abuser priests and who fail to impose zero-tolerance policies in their dioceses.

Since the emergence of the clerical sex abuse phenomenon 20 years ago, the Catholic Church has, slowly and with much difficulty, developed tough accountability measures for priests found to be sex abusers. Speaking at a UN hearing in Geneva a year ago, the Vatican’s UN ambassador, Silvano Tomasi, pointed out that in the course of just two years, 2011 and 2012, Pope Benedict had “defrocked” nearly 400 priests for offences relating to child abuse.

Until now, no similarly tough sanctions have applied to bishops who covered up for abuser priests. Speaking at a Vatican press conference last Saturday, British abuse survivor Peter Saunders, a member of the Holy See commission, said that he and other commission members want to see swift action on this.


Pope Francis

The exact nature of the proposal is not yet clear, but it seems that the commission intends to move on from the present situation in which, basically, the only person/body who can discipline a bishop is the pope himself. In other words, the commission is proposing that some entity, at local or Roman level, be given powers of sanction over bishops.

Progress required

Marie Collins

Ms Collins said: “I think I probably would mirror what Peter said this morning. In other words . . . if we don’t have something solid in place in relation to bishop accountability within the next two years, I don’t know if I would want to remain on the commission . . . That is a survivor’s point of view.”

In its statement, the 17-person commission also argued that part of the process of “ensuring accountability is raising awareness and understanding at all levels of the church”. To that end, the commission has called for seminars to educate the church leadership on child protection.

Yesterday’s statement also said that the commission was keen to “collaborate with churches on a local level”.

Speaking last Saturday, commission president Cardinal Seán O’Malley, of Boston, said that the commission intended to establish a “contact person” with all bishops’ conferences and with all religious orders. Furthermore, yesterday’s statement said that the commission is also preparing a “day of prayer” for all those harmed by sexual abuse.