The extent to which superiors can be said to be "abusing" those under their authority, even if the relationship is between adults, has been a flashpoint in proposals for reform.
During the November meeting of the USCCB last year, Cardinal O'Malley took to the floor of the conference to insist that exactly this kind of broader definition be adopted.
"I wonder if now is not the time to change the definition of vulnerable adult which we have been using in canon law," the cardinal, who leads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told the bishops.
"I think we need to extend [the definition of vulnerable] to adults who can be the victims of abuse of power."
O'Malley's call was echoed by prominent advocates for abuse victims including Marie Collins, herself a victim of clerical abuse and a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
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In December 2018, Collins told CNA that "the definition of vulnerable adult should be updated in canon law not just to include power differential but also how people can be vulnerable due to factors other than lack of reason."
This proposal has not previously met with total agreement. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich noted in Baltimore that many problematic situations involving clerical sexual misconduct were not analogous to child sexual abuse and, while they needed to be dealt with, should be kept apart from the most serious kinds of abuse.
"I would strongly urge that they be separate [in the way they are handled] because it's a different discipline," Cupich told the U.S. bishops.