Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio “Like a Loving Mother,” On the administrative removal from office of bishops negligent in the exercise of their office, especially in handling cases of sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable, 4 June 2016.



Like a loving mother, the Church loves all her children, but she cares for and protects with a most particular affection those who are younger and defenseless: this is a task which Christ himself entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. Conscious of this, the Church dedicates a vigilant care to the protection of infants and vulnerable adults.

This task of protection and care concerns the entire Church, but it is especially through her Pastors that it must be exercised. Therefore, diocesan bishops, eparchs, and those who have the responsibility for a particular Church, must engage a particular diligence in protecting those who are the more weak among the persons entrusted to them.

Canon law already provides the possibility of removal from ecclesiastical office “for grave causes:” this concerns also the diocesan bishops, eparchs, and those who are equivalent to them by the law (cf. can. 193 §1 CIC; can. 975 §1 CCEO). With the present Letter, I intend to make it clear that among the so-called “grave causes” is included the negligence of bishops in the exercise of their office, in particular in relation to cases of sexual abuse committed against minors and vulnerable adults, anticipated by the MP Sacramentum sanctitatis tutela promulgated by St. John Paul II and emended by my beloved predecessor Benedict XVI. In such cases the following procedure will be observed.

Article 1

§1. The diocesan bishop, the eparch, or he who, even with a temporary title, has the responsibility for a particular church or for another community of faithful that is equivalent to it according of can. 368 CIC and can. 313 CCEO, can be removed from his task legitimately if he has, through negligence, placed or omitted acts which have provoked grave harm to others, whether it concerns physical persons or whether it concerns a community in its totality. The harm can be physical, moral, spiritual, or patrimonial.

§2. The diocesan bishop or eparch can be removed only if he has failed objectively in a very grave manner in the diligence that is required of him by his pastoral office, even without grave moral culpability on his part.

§3. In the case of the abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, it is sufficient that the lack of diligence be grave.

§4. Major superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life of pontifical right are equivalent to the diocesan bishop and the eparch.

Article 2

§1. In all cases in which there appear serious indicia of what is foreseen by the previous article, the competent congregation of the Roman Curia can initiate an investigation on the issue, notifying interested party and giving him the possibility to produce documents and testimonies.

§2. The bishop will be given the possibility to defend himself, which he will be able do with the means envisioned by the law. All the stages of the investigation will be communicated to him, and the possibility to meet the superiors of the congregation will always be given to him. If the bishop does not take the initiative, this meeting will be proposed by the congregation itself.

§3. Following the arguments presented by the bishop, the congregation can decide to make a supplementary investigation.

Article 3

§1. Before making its own decision, if it is opportune, the congregation will be able to meet to discuss the case with other bishops or eparches belonging to the episcopal conference, or to the synod of the bishops of the Church sui iuris, to which the interested bishop or eparch belongs.

§2. The congregation makes its determinations gathered in ordinary session.

Article 4

§1. Whenever the congregation considers the removal of the bishop to be opportune, it will decide, based on the circumstances of the case, if it is:

1° to issue a decree of removal in the most brief period of time possible;

2° to exhort the bishop fraternally to present his own resignation within a time period of 15 days. If the bishop does not give his response within this time limit, the congregation will be able to issue the decree of removal.

Article 5

The decision of the congregation mentioned in articles 3-4 must be submitted to the specific approval of the Roman Pontiff who, before making a definitive decision, will be aided by a special college of jurists designated for this purpose.

Everything which I have decided with this Apostolic Letter given motu proprio I order to be observed in all its parts, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if it is worthy of particular mention, and I establish that it be published in the official commentary Acta Apostolica Sedis and that it be promulgated in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, entering into effect on 5 September 2016.1

From the Vatican, 4 June 2016


1 See also English report of the Apostolic Letter, which concludes with the concluding remarks of the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See:

“Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, clarifies in a note that the "investigation" in cases of negligence will be performed by the competent Congregations, of which there are four: Bishops, Evangelisation of Peoples, Oriental Churches, and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not included as this does not regard cases of abuse, but rather of negligence in office. He also emphasises the novelty of the establishment of a "college of legal experts" to assist the Holy Father in arriving at a definitive decision, and adds that this College will likely be constituted of Cardinals and Bishops.”

Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter motu proprio “Like a Loving Mother,” On the administrative removal from office of bishops negligent in the exercise of their office, especially in handling cases of sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable, 4 June 2016, translation by John A. Renken. Original Italian accessed 6 June 2016 at: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2016/06/04/0404/00936.html