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Vatican suggests bishops report abuse to police
Question of the Day
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican told bishops around the world Monday that it was important to cooperate with police in reporting priests who rape and molest children and said bishops should develop guidelines for preventing sex abuse by next May.
But the suggestions in the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are vague and nonbinding and contain no enforcement mechanisms to ensure bishops actually draft the guidelines or follow them.
That is a significant omission, given that the latest scandal in the United States involves allegations that Philadelphia’s archbishop left accused priests in ministry despite purportedly tough U.S. guidelines, and evidence that Irish bishops weren’t cooperating with an independent board overseeing compliance with the guidelines of the church in Ireland.
The document marks the latest effort by the Vatican to show it’s serious about rooting out priestly pedophiles and preventing abuse following the eruption on a global scale of the abuse scandal last year, with thousands of victims coming forward.
But it failed to impress advocates for victims who long have blamed the power of bishops bent on protecting the church and its priests for fueling the scandal. Without fear of punishment themselves, bishops frequently moved pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police or punishing them under church law.
“There’s nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the main U.S. victims group Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (Snap).
Critically, the letter reinforces bishops‘ exclusive authority in dealing with abuse cases. It says independent lay review boards that have been created in some countries to oversee the church’s child protection policies and ensure compliance “cannot substitute” for bishops‘ judgment and power.
Recently, such lay review committees in the U.S. and Ireland have reported that some bishops had “failed miserably” in following their own guidelines and had thwarted the boards’ work by withholding information and by enacting legal hurdles that made ensuring compliance impossible.
“Our central concern is that bishops and religious leaders retain enormous discretionary powers to decide if an allegation is credible,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of the Irish victims group One in Four.
“Clergymen do not have the skills or expertise to make sound decisions in this regard. That is a matter for law enforcement and child protection specialists,” Ms. Lewis said, calling the Vatican letter “dangerously flawed.”
In the letter, the Vatican told the bishops “it is important to cooperate” with civil law enforcement authorities and follow civil reporting requirements, though it doesn’t make such reporting mandatory. The Vatican has said such a binding rule would be problematic for priests working in countries with repressive regimes.
The letter told the bishops‘ conferences to draft guidelines for preventing abuse and caring for victims and report them back to the Vatican by May 2012. It said bishops should be prepared to listen to victims, to create “safe environment” programs for minors, and to better screen seminarians to ensure they receive proper training about celibacy and the damage done to victims of sex abuse.
It did not mention possible financial compensation for victims.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed that such measures are to be taken up on a case-by-case basis and that such a recommendation didn’t belong in a general letter of guidance being issued by Rome.
The letter stresses that accused priests are presumed innocent until proved guilty.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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