Vatican sets new standards for sex-abuse reporting

Saul Bowman
Мая 11, 2019

Survivors' groups have called for the Vatican to make reporting of suspected abuse to police mandatory - but the Vatican says church law can not override local civil law.

Tackling sexual abuses that have battered the Catholic Church's reputation has been a major challenge for Pope Francis since his 2013 election, with victims demanding a crackdown on bishops at the diocese level accused of concealing or mismanaging cases.

In an Apostolic Letter published on Thursday, which is set to become church law, the pontiff said that whistleblowers will be granted protection and that dioceses worldwide will be required to have a system in place to preserve the anonymity and confidentiality of those submitting the claims.

"It calls for the creation of easily accessible ways for allegations of abuse to be reported, establishes a system for reporting and dealing with allegations of abuse against cardinals, bishops, patriarchs, and heads of religious institutes, and holds accountable those who "cover-up" or fail to adequately respond to allegations of abuse".

The new law regulates how Church representatives are to respond with crimes against the sixth Commandment: forcing someone through violence or abuse of authority to perform sexual acts; performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person; and the production, exhibition, possession or distribution of child pornography.

The new rules come into force on June 1 and will be re-evaluated after a three-year trial period.

Pope Francis blesses worshipers at the end of the weekly general audience on May 8 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican.

The pronouncement, which signalled a change in Catholic Church law makes reporting of sexual cases obligatory for clerics and allows anyone to complain directly to the Vatican if necessary.

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The guidelines further cover "actions or omissions meant to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious" for sexual abuse.

The decree also comes as US bishops are preparing to meet next month to consider new steps toward accountability in abuse claims.

The norms "apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities".

According to the provisions of the motu proprio, someone reporting abuse can not be subjected to "prejudice, retaliation or discrimination" because of what they report.

It directed that clerics should follow local law on whether they are obliged to report alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities.

"The problem of victims who in the past have been told to keep silent is also addressed". Enforcement is also necessary if children are to be protected and survivors of abuse are to have justice.

There are new indications regarding the role of the Metropolitan Archbishop in preliminary investigations: if the accused individual is a Bishop, the Metropolitan receives a mandate from the Holy See to investigate. And if the victims request it, they must be informed of the results of the investigation. The accusation must be notified only if formal proceedings are opened. "People need concrete responses" and action, which is why "I am telling people, 'Help the pope so that his desire (to prevent abuse) becomes a reality in your dioceses'".

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