Vatican Creates Tribunal to Try Bishops Who Failed to Stop Sexual Abuse by Priests

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a Mass to mark the opening of the synod on the family in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican October 5, 2014.
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a Mass to mark the opening of the synod on the family in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican October 5, 2014. | (Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

A Vatican City spokesman has announced the creation of a new tribunal meant to deal with cases against Roman Catholic bishops who failed to stop sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Centered on examining allegations against bishops who failed to report sexual abuse cases to authorities, the tribunal will be held within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"Pope Francis will appoint a secretary and permanent staff for the new department, which will have a five year period to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of these new procedures," reported Vatican Radio on Wednesday.

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"The move marks an important step in the ongoing process to hold Church leaders accountable for the actions of abusive priests — something that abuse survivors have insisted is essential to both the healing and prevention efforts."

The creation of the tribunal is an unprecedented move by the Church regarding their handling of the sex abuse scandal, according to Elisabetta Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times.

"… Until Francis, no pope had publicly confronted or demoted even those bishops accused of gross negligence," reported Povoledo and Goodstein.

"Under Francis' predecessors — Pope Benedict XVI and, before him, John Paul II — the Vatican defrocked about 850 priests for sexual abuse and penalized about 2,500 more, but there was no similar judicial mechanism for bishops."

As with his predecessor, Francis has vowed to take stronger action against priests who've been found to be sexually abusing minors.

Last July, the pontiff stated that any Catholic bishop found to have helped shield a pedophile priest from justice "will be held accountable."

"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," said Francis in a homily.

Last September, Francis removed Paraguayan Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his post following an investigation that indicated that Plano had protected a priest accused of sexually abusing minors.

In November, the Vatican announced that a new panel to deal with the backlog of appeals from priests defrocked over accusations of sexual abuse was to be established.

While some watchdogs of the Church met the recent creation of the new tribunal with cautious optimism, groups like the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests were more skeptical.

In a statement released Wednesday, Becky Ianni of SNAP stated that "Sound isn't necessarily music. Motion isn't necessarily progress."

"The problem has never been a lack of Vatican officials with the specific 'process' to investigate their complicit colleagues," stated Ianni.

"The problem has been, and is, a lack of Vatican officials with the courage to investigate their complicit colleagues. Sadly, no words on paper can give timid, career-focused, self-serving monarchs the courage to do what's right — expose the corrupt colleagues."

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