May 30, 2019
By Libby Anne
Two stories came across my radar earlier this month. Each dealt with different aspects of what the Catholic Church is (and is not) doing on preventing child sexual abuse. The upshot is this: the Church is still dragging its heals. Preventing child sexual abuse and holding abusers accountable is simply not on the top of their priority list. Instead, they’re prioritizing things like protecting the Church from local hostility, and ensuring that penitents have access to confession and the forgiveness it brings, without having to face legal consequences for their actions.
First, there was this article:
Pope Francis issues groundbreaking law requiring priests, nuns to report sex abuse, cover-up
The law mandates that the world’s 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 religious sisters inform church authorities when they have “well-founded motives to believe” abuse has occurred.
This is good, right? Well, sort of. The problem is that this new regulation still does not require priests to report sexual abuse (including sexual abuse of children) to local law enforcement. No, really. Have a look:
The law doesn’t require them to report to police. The Vatican has long argued that doing so could endanger the church in places where Catholics are a persecuted minority. But it does for the first time put into universal church law that they must obey civil reporting requirements where they live, and that their obligation to report to the church in no way interferes with that.
Reporting child sexual abuse … could endanger the church? This logic seems suspect to me. Maybe don’t abuse children if you’re worried that civil authorities will be angry with you for abusing children.
The regulation says that the priests and other Catholic Church employees must obey civil reporting requirements where they’re located. Okay. However, many countries don’t have mandatory reporting laws. Additionally, it seems odd to me that one universal organization could have such different rules on something like reporting child sexual abuse. Isn’t part of the point that you can walk into any Catholic Church in the world and find the same prayers, the same rituals, the same format and structure? Why not have something universal here, as well?
Look, I’m glad that priests and nuns will now be required to report suspicions of abuse to church authorities. But I don’t for a minute trust those authorities to do the right thing with that information.
Case in point, the next article. This is an article in a Catholic newspaper. It’s written by Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Barron is upset about a bill before the legislature in California.
SB 360, a piece of proposed legislation currently making its way through the California state senate, should alarm not only every Catholic in the country, but indeed the adepts of any religion. In California, as in almost every other state, clergy members (along with a variety of other professionals, including physicians, social workers, teachers, and therapists) are mandated reporters — which is to say, they are legally required to report any case of suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement. However, California clergy who come by this knowledge in the context of “penitential communication” are currently exempted from the requirement. SB 360 would remove the exemption.
Oh lord. Seriously.
Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.