Bismarck – In what’s being called a revolutionary and landmark announcement by some, Pope Francis recently announced sweeping changes that hold bishops accountable for sexual abuse or covering it up.
So how does the news impact us here in Bismarck?
With the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal a worldwide problem, reporting abuse claims was often a disorganized mess…now Pope Francis is hoping to change that.
“I’m stunned that any priest or anyone representing the church, would ever do this to a child,” said David Kagan, the Bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck.
Facing perhaps the largest scandal in the church’s history, Pope Francis recently issued what’s called a papal decree, forcing every diocese, worldwide, to create an office within the next year to handle the abuse claims confidentially.
The guidelines cover a wide spectrum of issues facing the church, including possessing child pornography, sex abuse of a minor and the abuse of power.
KX News sat down with Bishop David Kagan for his reaction to the fact the decree also holds bishops, like him, accountable for either committing sexual abuse or abusing their own power with adults.
“When I first read this, it was, I was very satisfied and much relieved. What the Holy Father has done, he’s taken a great deal of the burden off the victim and placed the burden of responsibility where it’s supposed to be, and that’s with the church in the person of the Bishop,” said Bishop Kagan.
The announcement also makes it mandatory for Nuns and priests to report sexual abuse claims to church authorities.
In 2012, shortly after becoming Bishop of the Diocese, Kagan tells KX News he spoke with a victim of sexual abuse.
“My reaction first is, I’m supremely and profoundly sorry, but apologies are apologies, you have to have more than just saying “I’m sorry,” and I always ask, what can I do, to help you,” asked Bishop Kagan.
So how groundbreaking was the announcement by Pope Francis?
Laton Lohmann is an expert in Canon Law for the Diocese and tells KX News.
“Pope Francis is not afraid to make laws that, would, at other times in church history take longer to formulate, what is truly groundbreaking about this set of norms is the procedure outlined specifically for Bishops who are accused of sexual misconduct, that is something that is relatively unprecedented,” said Lohmann.
One thing that would remain a secret…would be abuse allegations that are revealed during things like a confession.
“Civil laws want to require that. Well, that’s not going to happen, that isn’t a new church procedure, that’s a centuries-old demand of the sacrament of confession itself. That whatever a priest hears there, stays there,” said Bishop Kagan.
The Decree also states that if a victim feels as though their complaint will fall on deaf ears on a local level…they can go straight to the Vatican…after the claims are reported, the Vatican must respond in 30 days.
The new rules go into effect June 1st.
According to bishopaccountability.org, 15 priests have been accused of sexual abuse in North Dakota, six are from the Bismarck Diocese and nine are from Fargo.
Critics of the news say they don’t believe the church can or will self-regulate itself.