MANILA, July 11, 2015–Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz has recently lauded “as both relevant and impressive” the new normative penal provision made by Pope Francis on bishops who fail to discipline erring priests within their territorial jurisdiction.
“In the past, it was the standard practice that priests who err by commission against continence and/or celibacy are penalized. And rightly so. But now, the Pope himself made a signal categorical option that is duly translated into an official penal provision, specifically in conjunction with bishops,” said the prelate in his recent column.
According to the former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, while
bishops remain subject to penal sanctions when they themselves engage in immoral acts, Pope Francis raises their personal accountability for priests under their jurisdiction by making them subject to sanctions when they fail to “do what is right” with regard to clergy members in need of disciplinary or punitive actions.
“So it is that now, bishops incur the pertinent ecclesiastical penalty not only for doing wrong themselves but also for not doing that which is right as far as the members of their respective clergy are concerned,” Cruz added.
This new provision, which came from the five-point plan presented by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors during the meeting of the Council of Nine Cardinals with Pope Francis last June, signifies the importance of implementing discipline and accountability within the church hierarchy.
In news reports, Vatican Press Office head Fr. Federico Lombardi said a new Vatican tribunal will be created within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge “all such cases connected to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.”
This move, which marks an important development in the ongoing process of making Church leaders accountable for the actions of errant priests, will have a five-year development and evaluation period.
Sin of omission
Cruz welcomed the new penal provision, noting that when bishops do not correct the erring members of their clergy, this is a “sin of omission which can readily (bear) negative effects.”
“First, it can scandalize the lay faithful in their respective ecclesiastical jurisdictions who look up to their priests with respect and reverence,” he said.
“Second, it can scandalize the other members of their own clergy who are living their commitment according to their best,” added the judicial vicar of the CBCP’s National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal.
Furthermore, Cruz noted, “Third, it can scandalize the seminarians who are taught about the dignity of the priesthood that they have to live by when ordained as priests themselves.”
According to Cruz, the said provision “is clearly intended to emphasize more not only the ethical but also the moral imperative of having disciplined clerical authorities in the Church.”
He said that the imposition of disciplinary punishment is an “explicit and official admission on the part of the Church that though gifted with holiness as a whole, the universal ecclesiastical community nevertheless has certain clerics or members of the Clergy who for one reason or another violate” Church laws. (Jennifer M. Orillaza/CBCPNews)