The distance between the two definitions offered by Vos estis and SST is currently under active discussion at the CDF, where officials are currently preparing their own vademecum – guidelines for implementation – on Vos estis.
Sources close to the drafting process have told CNA that the proposals for the vademecum include a clarification on the scope of cases it is competent to handle, and directing those offences which fall outside its competence to other Vatican departments, most especially the Congregations for Clergy and Bishops.
According to sources familiar with the preliminary CDF draft, the intention is to reassert the standing definition of vulnerable adult in SST and, by implication, remit those falling under the broader definition of Vos estis to other departments. Such a move, sources stress, would be motivated not only by a close reading of SST but also the simple practical limitations of staffing.
"[The CDF] is already badly short-handed," one official told CNA. "The idea that there are the resources to handle an entirely new classification of offence is crazy."
If the demarcation between the broad and narrow definitions of "vulnerable adult" is included in the final draft of the vademecum, curial officials at the Congregation for Clergy could find themselves responsible by default for a slew of cases like that of Msgr. Rossi, and expected to come up with a new standard for assessing consent in sexual relationships with priests. To date, officials there have not been given any guidance on how to respond to a potentially new classification of crime by a cleric.
While many canonists in and out of Rome accept that the implications of Vos estis require close study and thoughtful response to be effectively applied, few expect that workable answers to new questions about consent in immoral clerical relationships will arrive soon.
Another of Vos estis' provisions is the introduction of a canonical requirement on all clerics and religious to report any well-founded suspicion of sexual abuse. This requirement, coupled with the broader definition of vulnerable adult, could result in a sudden influx of suspected cases but with no clear understanding of where to send them for evaluation, or what is to be done with them when they arrive.
As curial officials, bishops' conferences, and diocesan chanceries consider the theoretical implications of Vos estis' reforms even as they come into force, the Rossi case throws into sharp relief the urgent practical applications the document is intended to have.
Unless and until Roman officials and local bishops come to a clear understanding of how they will define a vulnerable adult and examine the role of consent in clerical sexual misconduct, there is a growing chance all concerned will find themselves with a backlog of complaints and no way to clear them.