March 29, 2019
By Lisa Kashinsky
Clergy sex abuse survivors and advocates said new legislation from Pope Francis requiring Vatican officials and diplomats to immediately report abuse allegations to Vatican prosecutors was a step in the right direction, but faulted the Holy See for keeping his mandate within the confines of the city-state.
The legislation, dated March 26 and made public Friday, requires Catholic Church officials to report accusations of abuse “without delay.” Those who don’t could face fines of up to 5,000 euros or six months’ jail time. It was accompanied by guidelines for protecting children and “vulnerable people,” which Pope Francis wrote was “an integral part of the gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to spread throughout the world.”
The new rules came a month after a Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse left many underwhelmed when it concluded with just a handbook and promises of more work to be done. While this week’s legislation represents a significant step forward in tackling the decades-old issue — and is poised to be a model for the global church — survivors and advocates derided the pope for failing to involve outside law enforcement in his crackdown.
“Laws that make even one child safer should be applauded,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of Waltham-based BishopAccountability. But the Holy See’s approach still fails to “effect change or require the reporting of a child sex crime by clergy to secular law enforcement.”
“It’s a baby step in the right direction,” Doyle said. “However, it falls short of the bold reforms Pope Francis could enact if he chose to do so. He has the power to change universal canon law. He could choose to protect tens of millions of children instead of just a few dozen.”
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said, “It just seems like it is more of the same, where this is decades of cases that have shown that the church is incapable of policing itself. If we really want to see change, we should see reports being required to go to independent and secular law enforcement officials.”
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by priests, said the pope’s legislation “should state that if child abuse is suspected then the secular or civil police should immediately be called.”
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