Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Vatican process established by Benedict XVI for handling instances of sexual abuse by priests.
The Pope told Archbishop Gerhard L. Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is responsible for abuse cases, to “continue the line desired by Benedict XVI of decisive action regarding cases of sexual abuse,” according to an April 5 statement from the congregation.
He also underscored that “victims of abuse and their suffering are especially present in his thoughts and prayers.”
Pope Francis made his comments during a morning audience with the archbishop.
The main measures that the doctrine congregation is responsible for are “child protection; help for the many who in the past have suffered such violence; due process against those who are guilty; (and) the commitment to help Bishops' Conferences in the formulation and implementation of the necessary directives in this area.”
The April 5 communiqué added that the Church’s response to cases of sexual abuse “is of great importance to the witness of the Church and its credibility.”
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger established a strong response to allegations of sexual abuse during his time as head of the doctrine congregation, which he later continued as Pope.
His efforts began with a 1988 letter in which he shed light on how the procedures laid out in canon law made it difficult for bishops to laicize abusive priests.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II transferred authority for investigating abuse cases from the Congregation for Clergy to Cardinal Ratzinger’s doctrine congregation so that they could be dealt with more speedily.
Finally, in July 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented modifications to canon law that detailed how the department will examine and punish instances of clerical abuse.