Response to the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio of May 7th on Sexual Abuse.

By Virginia Saldanha

Pope Francis is the first Pope to make an attempt to address the long standing grievance of victims of abuse and its coverup in the Catholic Church. He is also the first Pope to acknowledge the abuse of women religious by clerics in the Church.  The Pope’s Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio, issued on 9th May, 2019, setting out laws and clarity in the procedures to be followed when abuse occurs and publicising it is noteworthy.

Although there is no direct mention of nuns in the category of vulnerable adults but it could be implied in the category “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts;”  This was clarified by Cardinal Marc Oulet in his interview to NCR.

I presume it could also include vulnerable lay women who approach priests for various problems.  The onus will be on the victim to prove that there was indeed an abuse of authority.

My only worry is what happens when the bishops do not carry out their responsibility according to the norms in the new law.  There is a provision to report directly to the Holy See, but from experience I can say that the 4 Dicasteries of the Holy See when contacted in the case of the sex abuse of the nun in India by a bishop, was not responsive.  Is the Holy See equipped to respond to complaints that could come pouring in from the global church. Since decisions regarding dealing with accused clerics/bishops lie with the Holy See, it means they remain in ministry and especially with regard to our current case in India, likely able to intimidate the victims.

Inclusion of lay people is not mandatory. That is a problem. They will only include laypeople who will do the biding of the hierarchy. Or omit them completely. Can the institution be trusted to police itself when they already have such a poor track record? Unless advocates are an integral part of the new structures I do not believe they can be trusted to deliver justice.

Pope Francis  is earnest about addressing abuse but I feel his bishops hold his hands back from legislating any progressive laws.  He wants to promote collegiality so he has put down what the bishops approved in February's meeting. The majority were against zero tolerance. I see loop holes in the document that can sabotage justice.

Absence of a clause to give support and cooperation to civil investigation is an example of a loop hole.

Virginia Saldanha has had extensive experience working in the Catholic Church including being an Executive Council member of Pax Christi International, Board Member of UCANews, the Executive Secretary of the Women’s Desk of the Archdiocese of Bombay & of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity, Family & Women.

She began to engage with the issue of Sex Abuse of Women in the Church from 1998 onwards as Exec. Secretary of the CBCI Commission for Women.  Through this time victims of clergy sex abuse approached her with their stories, asking for help to address the issue. Virginia decided to tackle the issue head on, first locally in Mumbai and then  expanded it to include women across India. She worked on three consultations on Gender Relations in the Church from 2010 to 2013 and worked with a team on preparing the policy for the Catholic Church in India on the ‘Sexual Abuse of Vulnerable Persons’.

Today, Virginia is the Secretary of the Indian Women Theologians Forum & Ecclesia of Women in Asia. She continues to work with women’s organizations on issues of violence against women and she is on the board of Majlis Cultural & Legal Centre, Mumbai.