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Vatican issues sex abuse guidelines after crisis
Question of the Day
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican issued a revised set of in-house rules Thursday to respond to clerical sex abuse, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children and priests who use child pornography, but making few substantive changes to existing practice.
The new rules make no mention of the need for bishops to report clerical sex abuse to police, provide no canonical sanctions for bishops who cover up for abusers and do not include any “one-strike and you’re out” policy for pedophile priests as demanded by some victims.
As a result, they failed to satisfy victims’ advocates, who said the revised rules amounted to little more than “administrative housekeeping” of existing practice when what was needed were bold new rules threatening bishops who fail to report molester priests.
The rules cover the canonical penalties and procedures used for the most grave crimes in the church, both sacramental and moral, and double the statute of limitations applied to them. One new element included lists the attempted ordination of women as a “grave crime” subject to the same set of procedures and punishments meted out for sex abuse.
That drew immediate criticism from women’s ordination groups, who said making a moral equivalent between women priests and child rapists was offensive.
The Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor acknowledged it was “only a document,” and didn’t solve the problem of clerical abuse. He defended the lack of any mention of the need to report abuse to police, saying all Christians were required to obey civil laws that would already demand sex crimes be reported.
“If civil law requires you report, you must obey civil law,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna told reporters. But “it’s not for canonical legislation to get itself involved with civil law.”
Victims’ groups have accused the church’s internal justice system of failing to deal with abuse allegations and allowing bishops to ignore complaints in order to protect the church.
“The first thing the church should be doing is reporting crimes to civil authorities,” said Andrew Madden, a former Dublin altar boy who took the first public lawsuit against the church in Ireland in 1995.
“That’s far, far more important than deciding whether a criminal priest should be defrocked or not,” he told the AP in Dublin. “The church’s internal rules are no more important than the rules of your local golf club.”
Barbara Dorris, of Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the new guidelines “can be summed up in three words: missing the boat.”
“They deal with one small procedure at the very tail end of the problem: defrocking pedophile priests,” she said. “Hundreds of thousands of kids, however, have been sexually violated (by) many other more damaging and reckless moves by bishops and other church staff.”
Earlier this year, the Vatican advised bishops to follow civil reporting laws and report abuse “crimes” — not allegations — to police. But that call was included in a nonbinding guideline posted on the Vatican website, not an official church document or piece of church legislation.
Sex crime allegations are handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected pope in 2005. The congregation’s procedures call for canonical trials or administrative punishments which can result in a priest being dismissed from the clerical state.
Recent efforts by civic authorities to investigate abuse allegations have again cast a spotlight on the church’s efforts to deal in-house with a crime that is criminally prosecutable in most of the world: Just last month, police raided the residence of the Brussels archbishop and carted off boxes of documents as part of an investigation into clerical sex abuse amid concerns the Belgian church was protecting pedophiles.
By Michael P. Orsi
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