Michigan metropolitan, USCCB secretary says new norms will hold all accountable, 'no matter their position in the Church'

DETROIT — A new papal law requiring priests and religious to report sexual abuse and misconduct provides “clear directives for universal accountability in response to the horrors of clergy sexual abuse,” Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said early Thursday.

The archbishop responded to the release of Pope Francis' sweeping directive, issued motu proprio — on the pope's own initiative — that sets forth clear norms and guidelines for the universal Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse.

Titled Vox estis lux mundi (“You are the Light of the World”), the papal document goes into effect June 1.

In his capacity as the metropolitan bishop of Michigan and as secretary to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Vigneron said he stands “ready and eager to implement the Holy Father’s directives and to continue advancing our local efforts to eradicate the crime and sins of sexual abuse from the Church.” 

“I also look forward to using the Holy Father’s directives as a framework for expanded action following the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting this June. We will hold accountable for their actions all those who would cause harm — no matter their position in the Church,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

Last fall, Archbishop Vigneron took part in meetings with the U.S. bishops in Baltimore in which several proposals were developed that would establish greater accountability standards for bishops. Those plans were ultimately placed on hold until a February summit at the Vatican that involved Pope Francis and the heads of national episcopal conferences worldwide.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, also praised Pope Francis' motu proprio for allowing bishops conferences latitude to implement further reforms to protect vulnerable minors and adults.

The papal document changes Church law in several respects, including making the world's 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 religious sisters mandatory reporters of suspected abuse or cover-ups, a move that could have wide-ranging implications. It also places obligations on diocesan bishops to alert the proper Vatican authorities of suspected abuse. 

Archbishop Vigneron praised the new requirements as needed steps toward eradicating the sin of sexual abuse in the Church and helping victims heal from the scars caused by some of the Church's pastors. 

“No one is above civil law, and importantly, no one is above God’s law,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “All the faithful deserve our best and swiftest actions, especially those who have been harmed. Even one incidence of abuse to a child of God is too many.”

“I am deeply sorry to all those who have been injured and are enduring a lifetime of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering because of perverse actions by those in authority,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “No one is above civil law, and importantly, no one is above God’s law. All the faithful deserve our best and swiftest actions, especially those who have been harmed. Even one incidence of abuse to a child of God is too many.”

While the new law means all priests and religious throughout the world will be required to report suspected sexual abuse to their superiors, mandatory reporting has long been a norm in the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we believe that transparency and accountability are essential for healing and rebuilding trust. We also know that we cannot — and should not — handle this alone, so we continue to report abuse to law enforcement,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I am grateful for my clergy and lay collaborators who are working with me for justice and healing. Through prayer, action and the power of the Holy Spirit, we yearn and work toward a holier Church.”

The new papal document also mandates that by June 2020, every diocese in the world have in place a public system or office for reporting abuse against minors or vulnerable adults, as well as for reporting negligence or cover-ups by bishops or those in authority. 

Individuals with knowledge of sexual abuse by clergy or Church representatives are urged to contact local law enforcement and the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Individuals also may contact the Archdiocese of Detroit by visiting protect.aod.org.

Learn more

To learn more about how the Archdiocese of Detroit responds to, works to prevent and walks with victims of sexual abuse, see the articles below or visit protect.aod.org.

Part 1: Independent review, lifelong monitoring of priests part of Archdiocese of Detroit’s response to abuse

Part 2: Safe environment programs, annual audits help archdiocese prevent abuse

Part 3: For archdiocese's victim assistance coordinator, helping survivors is a ministry of compassion