The norms released by Pope Francis do not include lay review boards or similar mechanisms of independent lay involvement.
Vos estis lux mundi does say that metropolitans may appoint "qualified persons" to assist them in investigations. But it does not offer specifics about the role of such "qualified persons," call for them to have some independence from bishops, or require their involvement.
The involvement of lay canonists or other ecclesiastical figures employed by dioceses seems unlikely to represent the kind of lay involvement that U.S. Catholics, including bishops, have been calling for.
In short, while the norms of Vos estis lux mundi represent to many a concrete step forward, they do not require any measure of independent lay involvement or transparency. Those who have expressed concerns about clericalism's impact on the sexual abuse crisis are likely to note that the process introduced by Pope Francis can be carried out entirely by clerics.
There has been some discussion among bishops about the possibility that metropolitan review boards might issue periodic public reports regarding how many investigations they undertook, and a general summary of the results of those investigations, in a manner similar to the reports issued annually concerning investigations of clerical sexual misconduct involving children. But Vos estis lux mundi makes no mention of any such reports.
A Q-and-A released by the U.S. bishops' conference May 9 says that Vos estis lux mundi "increases transparency by establishing clear procedures that must be followed, reaffirming the obligation to report to civil authorities, providing for lay involvement in internal investigations, protecting from possible conflicts of interest, and ensuring that those who report complaints to the Church are also free to report the same information to others and are protected from retaliation."
Whether that "increase" in transparency is enough for lay people, priests, and bishops concerned about clericalism remains to be seen. The absence of lay review boards at the metropolitan level may provoke significant pushback against the document in advance of the U.S. bishops' meeting in Baltimore next month.
Vos estis lux mundi changes significantly the agenda for that meeting. The bishops are expected still to vote on guidelines for dealing with bishops removed from office because of misconduct or negligence, and on the "code of conduct" they discussed at the last meeting. But the centerpiece of their plan to address the abuse crisis, voting on a modified version of the "metropolitan model," is now irrelevant, as Vox estis lux mundi supersedes whatever plan they might have passed.
If there is criticism of the lay role in Vos estis lux mundi, such as it is, the bishops might feel pressure to address that at their June meeting. To that end, they might consider a resolution calling on metropolitans to make use of review boards, and inserting that as a provision into the implementation "directives" that document suggests bishops' conferences develop.
What they could also do, especially in light of Vos estis lux mundi, is again consider a measure encouraging the Holy See to release results of its internal investigation concerning McCarrick, and consider a resolution encouraging bishops in McCarrick's former dioceses to do the same. A resolution asking the Vatican to release results fell flat at the November meeting. But six months have passed, and with practically no information having been released, the bishops might decide to try again.
In a May 9 statement, USCCB president Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said that Vos estis lux mundi is "a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing."
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The document has largely been received in that spirit. But the U.S. bishops have spent months telling lay Catholics they should be part of a transparent process, and Vatican officials have said that clericalism is at the root of our sexual abuse crisis. Whether Vos estis lux mundi is actually seen to increase lay involvement and transparency, while decreasing clericalism, will depend, in large part, on what the bishops do next.
J.D.Flynn served as Catholic News Agency's editor-in-chief from August 2017 to December 2020.