Twelve bishops under investigation by Church in Mexico for covering up sexual abuse 

Inside the Synod Hall 10 during the meeting of bishops and cardinals on Oct 14 2015 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA 10 14 15 Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Archbishop Franco Coppola, the apostolic nuncio to Mexico, said that to date there are 12 bishops being investigated by the Catholic Church for allegedly covering up cases of cases of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the country, but that nothing has been determined so far.

The investigations, carried out on the basis of the norms established by Pope Francis in his motus proprios "Come una madre amorevole" and "Vos estis lux mundi" are in various phases. While some cases are still being studied in Mexico, others have already been referred to the Vatican.

Pope Francis issued "Come una madre amorevole" in 2016, establishing that negligence by bishops in dealing with cases of sexual abuse may justify their removal.

Three years later, in 2019, the Holy Father published “Vos estis lux mundi,” which establishes that when accusations implicate Catholic bishops, the metropolitan archbishop of the ecclesiastical province to which the accused belongs must oversee the investigation. 

In Mexico, there are currently 19 ecclesiastical provinces, headed by 19 archdioceses, which comprise 73 dioceses and four territorial prelatures.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Coppola, 64, explained that “as 'Come una madre amorevole' provides, and as we have seen from the sentences that have been announced in the case of some bishops in other countries, the ecclesial penalty ⎯ in the case where it is established that there was a cover-up and depending on the type of cover-up ⎯ can range from a reprimand to removal from office.”

"What I think is important to point out is that all the complaints received are being followed up," he said.

The apostolic nuncio noted that “important steps have been taken” in the Church in Mexico in the fight to prevent and combat sexual abuse by the clergy, “but we must continue in this direction with even greater clarity and transparency, taking a position of zero tolerance.”

"We must also begin to take responsibility for the just compensation for the harm done to the victims," he said.

"There is still a long way to go to be able to regain trust, especially of the victims, those around them and non-Catholics," he acknowledged.

Coppola, who was appointed apostolic nuncio to Mexico on July 9, 2016, said that "sensitivity, care and efforts to prevent these crimes from being repeated has increased a lot."

"In almost all the dioceses a Commission for the protection of minors has been created that, on the one hand, receives complaints and cares for the victims and on the other hand, is in charge of spreading the culture of prevention throughout the institutions and ecclesiastical structures," he said.

"Also, on the seminary level there is greater care being taken in selecting those for admission and then the formation of the seminarians, so that the new priests are true shepherds according to the heart of Jesus and not people with unresolved psycho-affective problems," he stressed.

Coppola said that "I can’t say that there is no longer any problem, but I recognize that a great effort has been made to keep abreast with what Pope Francis asks of the whole Church."

This, he said, has happened "thanks to the sensitivity of many bishops and the courage of the victims who, by reporting abuse, have allowed us to realize the need to purify our presbyteries and our way of acting."

Asked about what leads clerics to commit sexual abuse, the apostolic nuncio said that while not being a “specialist” in the matter, his impression “is that, when it comes to abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, there is a serious problem in the development of the personality of the abuser, who looks for asymmetrical relationships, which therefore are not for reasons of love but of power.”

This problem, he stressed, "cannot be overcome with only good will or the intention to change; it has been seen that, although in good faith the abuser promises to change, he ends up repeating the offense."

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For Coppola, it is “a deep psychological problem that must be cured and for this reason it is incompatible with the exercise of priestly ministry.” 

“On the other hand, this also denotes an unresolved affective problem: If our heart is not full and overflowing, the person tries to fill himself with the love of the Lord in another way.”

"The most normal and natural thing is through another person, an adult like me, but there are also unhealthy ways to drown the problem in alcohol or to exercise power in a way contrary to the Gospel," he pointed out.

Since 2019, Coppola has made his personal contact information available to people who wish to report cases of abuse in the Church. “It has struck me to hear from specialists, reports on damage to the brain and psychological damage reported by the victims, sometimes for many years if not for life,” the apostolic nuncio in Mexico said.

After lamenting that, "especially in past years, there was a certain superficiality and unawareness of the serious and lasting consequences of these abuses," he noted that "the first thing to do is also train and inform our people from this point of view, all of them, the pastoral workers and all the people committed to the Church regarding the special care that children deserve.”

"On the other hand, we have to do a much better job at human and spiritual formation, which is the formation of the heart," he stressed.

The prelate emphasized that true pastors must have "a heart that feels full to overflowing with the Lord and that therefore doesn’t feel the need to 'steal' attention, affection or pleasure from others."

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In contrast, he said a true pastor should feel “the need rather to share what he has received, giving attention and affection and making present with our poor person, as is our vocation, Jesus himself in his way of looking at others, of acting, of being present to them, giving life and not stealing it.”

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