The Bishops’ Conference of France, in the last plenary assembly on 8 November 2021, admitted its responsibility towards the victims of abuse.
This admission is the beginning of a new era because it does not refer to the simple responsibility of individual people who are part of the Church, but to the French Church itself as an institution.
The background to this vote is the report of the Commission indépendante sur les abus sexuels dans l’Église (CIASE). It is an investigation that has examined fifty years of data, testimonies and evidence.
In that report the word “contexte” appears 98 times, placing emphasis especially on the context in which such conduct took place, as well as, of course, the conduct of individuals.
The report was brought to the attention of the Bishops’ Conference of France (Conférence des évêques de France) in November 2021. In this way, the Conference was able to take note of the work of CIASE and to decide what could be the appropriate measures to be taken.
At this point, the French Bishops, in the vote on 8 November 2021, were “able to verify that they agreed to:
– recognise the institutional responsibility of the Church in the violence suffered by so many victims.
– recognise the systemic dimension of such violence: in the sense that they are not only the acts of isolated individuals, but have been made possible by a global context. Modes of functioning, mentality and practices within the Catholic Church have allowed these acts to continue and have prevented their condemnation and punishment”.
It is therefore a recognition of historical importance. This importance, as it will be noted, is in fact not only due to the media echo of the news, but also offers considerable points for reflection from a legal point of view.
The most loyal readers will remember that the experts of Dikaios, as legal consultants specialised in Religious Congregations (RC), have already addressed in this feature a topic that today is more relevant than ever: it is the Model of Organization and Management (MOM).
This model is a real and proper system with which the institution “verifies itself”. It therefore makes it objective, even towards third parties, that the RC or other Ecclesiastical Entity (EE) has taken steps to implement a whole series of measures aimed at precisely avoiding the occurrence of conduct prohibited by law to its members.
In fact, the adoption of the MOM allows to demonstrate that the RC has implemented, both from a “static” point of view (such as, for example, the initial examination of its possible critical issues) and “dynamic” (such as the continuous monitoring of the effects of the Model in order to improve the model itself more and more) those virtuous behaviours and conduct leading to:
As you may have noticed, the latest events, and in particular the latest Conférence des évêques de France, highlight how the organisation itself can also be responsible for the conduct of its members.
Therefore, it is desirable for the legal consultants and the leaders of the RC to take the most appropriate initiatives in order to avoid the occurrence of crimes and other illegal conduct within the congregation itself, as well as to protect the reputation and assets of the Ecclesiastical Entity.
In fact, the sector legislation also sets out a form of exemption from liability for the entity that proves that “the task of supervising the functioning and observance of the models and their updating has been entrusted to a body of the entity with independent powers of initiative and control” (Article 6 of Legislative Decree 231/2001 – this is the so-called Supervisory Body, SB).
Furthermore, the legislation in question requires the RC to equip itself with a Code of Ethics and internal procedures and protocols. In this way, on the one hand, the members and employees of the RC who will be able to know this code and these procedures must scrupulously comply with them; on the other hand, the RC will have at least partially protected itself from possible behaviour that does not comply with the code and procedures.
Ultimately, the Entity that wants to demonstrate first of all that it has taken steps to avoid the occurrence of crimes and other prohibited conduct will find in the MOM the most complete and versatile tool currently provided for by the law. It is therefore certainly desirable, in light of the “systemic” responsibility established by the Conférence des évêques de France, to take action as soon as possible to verify the feasibility and actual implementation of this Model.
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