On 16 July, the Vatican released guidelines for bishops and other senior officials setting out clear and detailed rules on how to deal with clerical child sex abuse claims.
The manual (which includes a form to be filled out detailing the alleged crime against the minors involved) does not include any new laws, but has been drawn up at the express request of Pope Francis who called for procedures to be laid out step-by-step to avoid any further confusion in the area.
The guidelines provide that the officials who are responsible for reporting claims to civil authorities should report such claims even if they are not obliged to do so and make it clear that such action is necessary to protect the person involved and/or other minors.
This is a clear shift in position as prior guidance had provided that these officials were to follow local laws on whether claims of clerical child sex abuse should be reported to civil authorities to include the police.
Despite the notable strengthening of the obligation to report such clerical child sex abuse claims provided for in these new guidelines, some still feel that they do not go far enough and that the officials in question should be simply ordered to report the allegations/claims to the appropriate civil authorities to include the police.
Pope Francis has made the fight against clerical child sexual abuse and its cover-up a priority of his pontificate. He called for “a practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges”.
In an interview with the Vatican News Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, who is the deputy of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for processing clergy sex abuse complaints, he said “The real novelty … is that for the first time the procedure is described in an organised way – from the first report of a possible crime to the definitive conclusion.”
While all progress in this area is to be welcomed the consensus of those outside the Vatican is that much remains to be done and real tangible progress in this area may be difficult to achieve, as Pope Francis tries to balance the need to protect the children at the center of these allegations/claims with the need to protect the already fragile reputation of the Church in this area.
Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM