The announcement by the Vatican that it is to set up a tribunal to hold bishops to account where they fail to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexually abusive priests, is to be welcomed.
Based at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but headed by its own secretary, it will examine all cases of bishops accused of abusing their office and failing to report crimes committed by priests in their care. The announcement indicates that Pope Francis is serious about the issue of sexually abusive clergy. It is also important for the credibility of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he set up.
As significant was the speed with which the commission’s recommendations about such a tribunal were acted on. They were received by the Council of Cardinals, which advises Pope Francis, last Monday and his decision was announced on Wednesday. A similar body will be set up to hold superiors of religious congregations to account.
Both tribunals will include lay people. Not unnaturally, survivor groups have greeted these developments with caution. They’ve been let down too many times, but indications are positive. It’s been a long journey.
Almost 14 years ago the then head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, wrote to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux in France congratulating him after he received a three-month suspended sentence for not co-operating with civil investigations into an abuser priest. Cardinal Hoyos's letter was circulated to Catholic bishops' conferences worldwide.
As long has been the journey of Dublin abuse survivor and member of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, Marie Collins. When she first went public about her abuse she was denounced at Mass in her local parish by a priest who told the congregation she was not to be believed. Last week she was explaining the new tribunal to church authorities. As Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin put it last Friday ". . . the tables have turned".