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Pope Francis makes it mandatory for clergy to report sex abuse

Pope Francis makes it mandatory for clergy to report sex abuse

The impact "likely will be felt most intensely outside the West, since places such as the US, Canada and some parts of Western Europe (though, ironically, not the pope's backyard in Italy), already have fairly robust reporting systems", said Vatican expert John Allen, on the online religious newspaper Crux Now.

"I think it would have been a lot stronger approach if they were to make it mandatory to report to law enforcement here in the United States", said Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell. The Vatican says all priests and religious sisters must report to church authorities, as well as to police in places where civil laws require it.

Many believe even with this law, the cover-ups will continue. Those reporting must be protected from any "prejudice, retaliation or discrimination".

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.

"People must know that bishops are at the service of the people", said Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's longtime sex crimes prosecutor.

Most dioceses in the U.S. and Europe already have these systems, and the new norms will likely be more important in countries where there are not already well-established guidelines for reporting and handling sexual abuse.

But the procedures do for the first time put into universal law that victims can not be silenced, that clergy must obey civil reporting requirements where they live, and that their obligation to report to the church in no way interferes with that.

In an Apostolic letter, which is set to become Church law, he makes clear that any sexual advance involving the use of power will now be considered abusive. Nor can accusers or victims be required to keep silent about their accusations.

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But Scicluna said it obviously covered lay people as well.

Anne Barrett Doyle of the advocacy and investigative group BishopAccountability.org said the law Pope Francis issued on Thursday does not include penalties for failing to adhere to reporting and investigating procedures.

The move comes as sex abuse and cover-up scandals have cost the church almost billions of dollars in settlements and while the archdiocese says the new law is very affirming, a clergy sexual abuse attorney calls it the same kind of thinking that got church leaders where they are today. And if the victims request it, they must be informed of the results of the investigation.

Victims and their advocates have long complained that bishops and religious superiors have escaped justice for having engaged in sexual misconduct themselves, or failed to protect their flocks from predator priests. The metropolitan then has an initial 90 days to conduct the investigation, though extensions are possible.

The new norms dealing with cover-ups are a good first step, but in civil society as in the church, good laws are not enough.

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.

The motu proprio, which applies to the whole Catholic Church, will come into effect June 1, 2019.


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