The Vatican has released guidelines this week (VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI) regarding the reporting of sexual abuse by priests, bishops, and other religious.  The guidelines are informative and address some of the concerns that Catholics in our diocese have had with regard to allegations made against disgraced diocesan priest Father Dennis Stilwell by Father Matthew Cowan.

The guidelines specify that “prejudice, retaliation, or discrimination as a consequence of having submitted a report is prohibited…”  It goes on to state the following:  “An obligation to keep silent may not be imposed on any person with regard to the contents of his or her report.”  If this is the case, then the suspension of Father Cowan, supposedly for publishing his concerns, would be in violation of this directive.  The harsh, over-the-top banishment of Father Cowan continues.  He is not allowed to administer the sacraments to any of the faithful of the Diocese.  He is prohibited from entering a Catholic church in the Diocese and can only say mass at home. Meanwhile, Father Stilwell continues in ministry with no changes in his status and with no sanctions against him despite his track record.

The guidelines specify the following with regard to acting on allegations:  “The Dicastery shall proceed without delay, and in any case within thirty days from the receipt of the first report…”  The guidelines give further directives on the time frame of the investigation:  “The investigation is to be completed within the term of ninety days…”.  Clearly, this was not the case with regard to Father Cowan.

Although these guidelines do not become effective until June 1, 2019, they nonetheless reflect concerns that many have had with regard to the handling of sexual abuse allegations in our Diocese.  They further underscore the need for transparency and accountability with regard to sexual abuse, especially by personnel of the diocese who interact with the laity.

These guidelines may be accessed at:  http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html