Published: Fri, May 10, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Pope Francis orders priests and nuns to report sex abuse

Pope Francis orders priests and nuns to report sex abuse

Juan Carlos Claret, head of a group of lay Catholics in Chile, says he thinks another key weakness is the law keeps abuse reports and investigations within the church instead of requiring that crimes be reported to police.

Following the annus horribilis of 2018, which saw the laicization of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick among other scandals, Pope Francis is taking further steps to combat clerical abuse while emphasizing concrete action.

Previously such reporting was left up to the conscience of individual priests and nuns. It was the farthest-reaching reaction to date from the Vatican as it tries to address the sexual abuse scandal, applying mandatory new procedures for all Catholic Church diocese across the globe on the reporting of alleged sexual abuse.

Religious officials also are expected to comply with civil laws regarding reporting sex abuse, according to the Vatican.

"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful", wrote the Pope, who in February promised he would take action to tackle abuse.

The archbishop spoke to reporters about Pope Francis' latest apostolic letter, "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world") at a news conference at the Vatican May 9.

The now universal law of mandating all clerics, as well as men and women religious, to report to the competent ecclesiastical authorities the abuses of which they become aware is important, he said, "because it makes disclosure the main policy of the church".

Among the new indications given is the obligation for every Diocese in the world to set up, by June 2020, "one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports" concerning sexual abuse committed by clerics and religious, the use of child pornography, and cover-ups of the same abuse.

"First of all that leadership is not above the law", Scicluna said, "and second that leadership needs to know, all of us in leadership we need to know, that if the people love the Church they're going to denounce us when we do something wrong".

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The new norms apply not only to abuse of minors (those under 18) but also to abuse of other vulnerable people, as well as anyone forced "by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts".

Canon lawyer Kurt Martens called the new law "revolutionary" by making sex abuse of minors and adults, as well as official cover-ups, subject to mandatory reporting.

The letter marks a significant shift in the dynamic of how the Church investigates cases of abuse.

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

The new law does, however, require Vatican offices to share information throughout the process, since an untold number of cases have fallen through the cracks thanks to the silo-like nature of the Holy See bureaucracy, where each congregation zealously guards its own turf and files.

Unless the metropolitan bishop finds the claim "manifestly unfounded", he must immediately ask permission from the Vatican to open a preliminary investigation and must hear back from Rome within 30 days - a remarkably fast turnaround for the lethargic Holy See.

The U.S. hierarchy has been under huge public pressure to hold one another accountable for sexual misconduct and cover-up stemming from both the McCarrick scandal and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

That raises the question as to how realistic it is for the Vatican to promise a response to reports within 30 days, particularly considering there are scores of cases now backlogged, Allen said. The metropolitan bishop then has an initial 90 days to conduct the investigation, though extensions are possible.

Once the investigation is over, the metropolitan sends the results to the Vatican for a decision on how to proceed. Lay experts can be consulted by the bishops investigating abuse.

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