One in Four, which supports victims of child sexual abuse, said that the Catholic church needed to clarify whether allegations would also be passed to civil authorities so that prosecutions could be brought.
Yesterday the Pope issued the new church law to send a clear message after the scandals involving clergy having covered up serious child sex abuse. The new law provides whistleblower protections for anyone reporting an incident and requires all dioceses around the world to have a system in place to receive the claims confidentially.
The new ruling outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the individual accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four Ireland, said that her organisation “really welcomed” the new law but pointed out that it did not force clergy to report crimes to local civil authorities.
“That would be the most important thing,” she said. “Certainly in America, in western Europe and in Ireland and the UK there is very good legislation in place which places a responsibility to report all concerns about sexual abuse. But I would have concerns in the wider worldwide church, which is responsible for million of Catholics, if clergy were not under an obligation to report abuse to the police.”
Ms Lewis said the Catholic church needed to ensure that it treated historical abuse complaints as seriously and as urgently as contemporaneous ones.
“As we know, many people do not report abuse at the time and in a lot of cases the person who has abused them may well have gone on to abuse others. It’s extremely important that historical allegations are treated seriously,” Ms Lewis said.
The Vatican has claimed that countries’ different legal systems would make a universal reporting law impossible, and that imposing one could endanger the church in places where Catholics are persecuted. The new measure put into universal church law for the first time that clergy must obey local civil reporting requirements.
The new ruling requires the world’s 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 nuns to inform church authorities when they learn, or have “well-founded motives to believe”, that one of their number has engaged in abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of sexual abuse images or that a superior has covered up any of these crimes.
“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s sexual crimes prosecutor, said. “They are not above the law, and if they do wrong they must be reported.”
Bishops could be accused of cover-up or negligence if they fail to implement the new law, or retaliate against priests and nuns who make reports against them.
“Cover-up” is defined as “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” civil or canonical investigations.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s bishops office, said the inclusion of sex crimes involving adults was a clear reference to cases of sexual abuse of nuns and seminarians by their superiors.
A number of reports, including from the Vatican’s women’s magazine, have recently revealed cases across the world where nuns had been sexually abused by priests.
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