The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released a 17-page document that will guide bishops on how to handle reports of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.
The document, which was released on July 16, does not introduce new norms to existing church laws, but aims to guide church leaders on procedures in handling sex abuse cases.
The handbook references the Code of Canon Law’s Substantive Norms and procedural norms regarding crimes and Vos estis lux mundi, which was promulgated by Pope Francis in 2019.
It established the so-called “metropolitan model” for the investigation of accusations against bishops and their equivalents.
The handbook also refers to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document on procedure and praxis.
Abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy is considered to be a “graviora delicta,” or a crime that merits disciplinary measures.
“The present manual is meant to serve as a handbook for those charged with ascertaining the truth in such criminal cases,” read the introduction to the document.
It added that the document is a “step-by-step” guide for church leaders from the time a crime is reported “to the definitive conclusion of the case.”
Its use is encouraged because a “standardized praxis will contribute to a better administration of justice,” read the document’s introduction.
Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the handbook is a “tool,” adding that updates and adaptations should be expected as developments and new challenges require.
The congregation said the handbook is issued “in response to numerous questions about the procedures to be followed in those penal cases for which it is competent.”
Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it is “the first time the procedure is described in an organized way.”
The archbishop said the guidelines ensure that anonymous complaints of abuse, which were often disregarded, are taken more seriously now and that ignoring a complaint “because it is not signed would be wrong.”
“It has become clear that a peremptory attitude in one sense or another is not conducive to the search for truth and justice,” he said in an interview with Vatican News.
Archbishop Morandi said that while some crimes are recent, the congregation is “still witnessing reports emerge of old cases, sometimes many years later.”
The Catholic News Service said plans to publish the handbook were first announced at a press briefing at the end of the Vatican summit on the protection of minors in 2019.
The summit brought together Pope Francis and 190 church leaders — presidents of bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of men’s and women’s religious orders and Roman Curia officials — for four days of listening to speeches, survivors’ testimonies, discussions in small groups, a penitential liturgy and Mass.