Vos Estis expires next year; SNAP urges renewal but with major reform
In June of 2019, the Vatican gave Archbishops the power to investigate as necessary in their local regions under the norms of the papal motu propio letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi. The directive is to hold Catholic prelates accountable if they abuse or if they fail to protect children or vulnerable adults from clerical predators. We believe that Vos Estis is not effective as is and requires a complete overhaul.
The process by which prelates are investigated and why needs to be completely transparent. Who is conducting the investigation is just as important as knowing what is uncovered. There have been systemic problems within the Catholic Church for decades, and the adage, 'nothing changes if nothing changes,’ rings loud as a church bell.
SNAP, survivors, and advocates worldwide have asked that laypersons be involved in investigations. Inviting an arsonist to investigate the fire he started will never produce the desired evidence and accountability. This is an example of what occurred in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Shortly after his 2017 appointment, Bishop Stephen Biegler re-opened an investigation into an allegation of abuse against one of his predecessors, Joseph Hart. This investigation was led by a layperson, a lawyer experienced in abuse cases. The result found the claims ‘credible and substantiated.' Bishop Biegler forwarded the findings to Rome, specifically the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and they found that the allegations brought forth could not be proven.
The norms of Vos Etis allow prelates to ask lay experts to be included in investigations against bishops, but it is not a mandate. Avoiding the involvement of laypersons is an attempt for the hierarchy to continue to police themselves. Survivors’ mistrust of the Catholic Church is renewed on an almost daily basis. How can we possibly trust a process that does not include lay personnel? We call on Catholic officials to insist that Pope Francis revise this soon-to-expire order and change it to mandate lay involvement at all steps in these investigations.