Shining the torch of truth

Bishops acknowledge ‘watershed’ moment as Pope Francis delivers edict that clergy must report all cases of abuse

‘”Vos estis lux mundi.” “You are the light of the world…” Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every believer to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness.’

With these words Pope Francis began his Apostolic letter dated 7 May to Catholics worldwide – a letter in which he laid out new procedural rules to combat sexual abuse. The Pontiff’s edict, or Motu Proprio, which will subsequently become Church law, followed the meeting on the Protection of Minors at the Vatican in February this year, and it underlined the need for all clergy and religious to disclose any cases of abuse to ‘the competent civil authorities’.

Moreover, it mentioned specifically the need for Bishops to assume this responsibility with every diocese required to have a system enabling the public to submit reports easily. ‘This responsibility falls, above all, on the successors of the Apostles, chosen by God to be pastoral leaders of his People, and demands from them a commitment to follow closely the path of the Divine Master,’ wrote Pope Francis.

The publication of the Pope’s letter coincided with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’s spring meeting in Valladolid, Spain, which focused on safeguarding training.

The Bishops, whose number included the Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, heard the testimonies of survivors of abuse as part of this process, and said in a statement: ‘These have been days which have touched every bishop very deeply. We have listened to the deep and lasting confusion, pain and despair, inflicted by the people who abused them. We have listened with horror to the ways in which precious gifts of our faith have been used to groom and dominate both children and vulnerable adults in crimes of abuse. We humbly ask forgiveness of all who carry this pain, for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions.’

The Bishops also welcomed Pope Francis’s intervention – and the hope it brings of a fresh chapter. They said: ‘For us bishops, these days are a watershed. Now we accept with renewed vigour the challenges that lie ahead. We welcome warmly the Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” which Pope Francis has issued today, the last day of our conference, and its new provisions and requirements.’

Pope’s instructions
Pope Francis’s edict spelled out clearly the obligation for every diocese worldwide to have established, by June 2020, ‘one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports’. In addition, it stressed the need to ‘report promptly’ and to conclude investigations within a period of 90 days.

In a significant step, the Pope provided clear definition of a cover-up as ‘actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the delicts’ of sexual abuse.

Moreover, his letter contained a clear definition of abuse too, providing three specific categories:
• forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts
• performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person
• the production, exhibition, possession or distribution, including by electronic means, of child pornography, as well as by the recruitment of or inducement of a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions

The Pontiff acknowledged the damage done by sex abuse cases and argued for the need to draw lessons from the past. He wrote: ‘The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.

‘In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission.

‘Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future.’

The full text of the Motu proprio is available on the Holy See website at

Desire for healing
Back in Valladolid, Baroness Sheila Hollins, a member of the training team working with the Bishops’ Conference, said that the goal had been to help them ‘understand more clearly the importance of listening to and accompanying people who have been abused and those close to them, and to recognise the long-term effects of abuse'.

The majority of the training team were ‘victims and survivors of abuse’ and Baroness Hollins quoted one survivor who said of the Bishops: ‘I felt hugely encouraged by their sincere desire to bring about healing and their genuine sorrow at the harm inflicted by some of their brothers, on so many.’

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon offers a personal reflection on page 3 of this month’s Pic in which he describes these survivors as ‘channels of light’ for their continuing connection with the Church. ‘To me it was remarkable,’ he writes, ‘that people who had been abused by the clergy still remained in the Church. The challenge in this Archdiocese and elsewhere is to keep light shining in all places.’

• Archbishop Malcolm will be the main celebrant at ‘Celebrate the Child’, the Archdiocese’s Annual Family Celebration Mass at Saints Paul and Peter Catholic College, Highfield Road, Widnes on Sunday 30 June (3pm), preceded by a picnic in the grounds at 1.00 pm. For more information contact or 0151 522 1043.

Safeguarding today

By Alexandra Griffiths, Archdiocese of Liverpool safeguarding coordinator

For over 20 years, the Archdiocese of Liverpool has had safeguarding procedures in place, and was one of the first Catholic dioceses to appoint a safeguarding officer. Since that time, the safeguarding department has consistently worked to strengthen and improve safeguarding across the Archdiocese.

There is a robust governance structure now in place with oversight from the Safeguarding Commission, which is an independent panel of expert professionals. All our work is undertaken within the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) policies and procedures, which is compliant with UK legislation and statutory guidance and can be viewed at We also work in close partnership with the police, local authorities, our statutory partners, and other faith groups to support victims and to hold anyone who has committed abuse to account.

Earlier this year, all of the Catholic Dioceses across England and Wales were required to answer a robust series of questions about the structure and governance of safeguarding both to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and to the Charity Commission. The Archdiocese of Liverpool was no exception, and we completed a lengthy return to both organisations. We also underwent an independent inspection of our cases by the CSAS, for which we received very positive feedback.

Over the last couple of months, the Archdiocese of Liverpool Trustees have supported investment into the safeguarding department by updating both the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) and case management systems – another step towards a contemporary, forward-thinking department.

The Archdiocese of Liverpool welcomes Pope Francis’ ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’. We are pleased that the Papal decree describes a significant amount of the already existing working structures that are present and working well not only in this Archdiocese, but across Dioceses throughout England and Wales. Pope Francis has made clear the damage that abuse causes, and that abuse has no place in the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of Liverpool takes safeguarding very seriously and would strongly urge anyone who has been hurt by abuse whether it is now, or in the past, to come forward and tell us or report it to the police. You will be listened to and given the necessary support.

Please do not hesitate to contact the safeguarding department on 0151 522 1043 or