From OSV News: 

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has made progress over the past two decades in confronting sexual abuse against minors within the church, but has only begun to address the vulnerability of adults to sexual abuse by clergy, religious and lay leaders, experts told OSV News.

“We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in the area of (creating) safe environments,” said Suzanne Healy, chairwoman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board, a lay-led group that advises the bishops on preventing sexual abuse of minors.

At the same time, “there’s still a lot more work to be done” in extending safeguards to adults, said Healy, a licensed marriage and family therapist who served as the victim assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 2007 to 2016.

At present, two key documents lay out broad protocols for the response of the Catholic Church in the U.S. to sexual abuse by its clergy, religious and other pastoral leaders.

In 2002, as a number of clerical abuse scandals emerged, the U.S. Catholic bishops implemented the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The document — commonly called the Dallas Charter — lays out a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of abuse.

A year after the charter’s most recent revision in 2018, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio “Vox Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), outlining global legal procedures for how the church should deal with clergy sexual abuse, including procedures for investigating bishops.

The document, implemented for a three-year experimental period beginning June 1, 2019, included the term “vulnerable person,” defined as “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offense.”

On March 25, Pope Francis published an updated version with the specific term “vulnerable adults,” without altering the previous definition. The revised text also was broadened to include investigations of leaders of Vatican-recognized international Catholic lay associations and movements.

Protecting vulnerable adults represents “a new frontier” for the Catholic Church, said Deacon Bernard Nojadera, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.

“The landscape is continually changing,” he told OSV News. “You’re looking at issues such as power differentials among adults, the relationships of those who are in positions of authority, the responsibilities for creating boundaries so that relationships that develop are healthy and holy.”

Pastoral counseling and spiritual direction are particular areas of concern where adults are vulnerable, explained Deacon Nojadera.

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