Vatican training tells bishops they don’t have to report clerical sexual abuse to authorities

One of Pope Francis’s tasks as the leader of the Catholic Church has been to repair its image as a haven for child molestation.

One would think that the most basic changes one could implement on this front would be to end the culture of protecting priests who abuse children — from moving priests to different congregations to intimidating victims who spoke out to setting up trust funds specifically designed to shield churches’ funds from abuse-related lawsuits. Telling priests that that kind of illegal, immoral behavior isn’t okay. Not anymore.

But it appears that Pope Francis hasn’t done much on this front. At least not yet.

From the Guardian:

Basilica San Jose de Flores in Buenos Aires, where Cardinal Bergoglio once presided.

Basilica San Jose de Flores in Buenos Aires, where Cardinal Bergoglio once presided.

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.

A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasised that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.

Pope Francis has called for the church to exhibit “zero tolerance” of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults by clergy and that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse”.

He said in a 2012 interview – when he was still a cardinal – that he was once called by a bishop asking him for advice on how to deal with an allegation of sex abuse. Cardinal Bergoglio – as he was then known – allegedly told the bishop to take away the priests’ licences and begin a canonical trial that would deal with the matter internally.

The training course in question dates back to 2001, from before Pope Francis became Pope Francis, but it’s still in use. As the Guardian reports, it has been used in training programs for roughly 30% of current Catholic prelates.

This news comes less than a week after a former victim of clerical sexual abuse was removed from a Vatican commission for being critical of what he viewed as the commission’s lack of commitment to meaningful reform within the Church.

From that Guardian report:

While the commission has been described as a policymaking body by some church officials – determining guidelines and best practices to avoid abuse – Saunders has long called for it to be far more aggressive, including addressing specific cases that have emerged all around the world. He has also questioned why the Vatican has not apparently made any progress on an abuse tribunal that was announced last year to hear cases of church officials who cover up abuse.

“A number of members of the commission expressed their concern that I don’t toe the line when it comes to keeping my mouth shut,” Saunders said hours after the news of his leave was announced.

“I made clear I would never be part of something that was a public relations exercise. There was a feeling around the table expressed in a vote that the commission could not work with me as things stood at the moment and unless I changed.”

One would think that “stop helping people who molest kids” would be a simple enough proposition. Apparently it’s a tall order for the Catholic Church.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Outspoken1

    If the abuser was a teacher/cop/artist/mother/etc., they would be hauled away in handcuffs and taken through the local court system. But Priests and other Catholic (as well as Baptist, Protestant, etc.) members are just shipped elsewhere. Sheesh.

  • 2karmanot

    Looks like the Papal propaganda stunt fixed everything and it’s back to hate as usual.

  • cinorjer

    People need to stop thinking this Pope is concerned with anything but putting on a good public image. He’s as much interested in reform as Colonel Sanders is interested in how the chickens are treated and has about as much power to actually change anything even if he tried.

  • The_Fixer

    Yes, blame the victim was the order of the day. How in the world can a 9 year-old be provocative?

    Your treatment at the hands of human slime was reprehensible. Not much more I’d care to say other than that, anything more would be a stream of language that most would not consider polite, no matter how appropriate it would be.

  • 2karmanot

    I’ll never forget going into the confessional to report a molestation at 9 years old and was told, I –“You were provocative and have occasioned an act of mortal sin in Father Frederic.” I didn’t know what ‘provocative ‘ meant or ‘occasioned’, but never forgot those words and knew that I was being blamed for being harmed. I jettisoned the Church then, but it took more time for me to put a mental dagger into its filthy cesspool of a heart.

  • The_Fixer

    It would seem to me that, indeed, it is the obligation of anyone to report the sexual abuse of children to the authorities. To not do so is the ultimate betrayal of the child.

    But this is par for the course. It was par for the course when Sister Patrick was dragging me by the hair down the hallway. It was par for the course when Pastor Father O’Brien was sternly lecturing all of the children waiting for their turn in the confessional to be quieter (he was hungover and had a headache, the noise was bothering him). It was par for the course when Sister Ambrose was dishing out her legendarily harsh punishment – some of it physical – for the most minor of infractions.

    This is the kind of thing that convinced me that there is nothing worth my time in the Catholic Church, and there still isn’t. They are only interested in their own perpetuation, not the welfare of their members.

    Pope Francis is not inspiring any confidence in me, there will only be superficial change designed to dismiss criticism and preserve the revenue stream. I see no substantive change in their operations forthcoming.

  • 2karmanot

    Suffer the little children come onto me

  • Knottwhole

    New pope. Same as the old pope.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Religion, all religion, is the enemy, even if all they do is promote anti-scientific ignorance.

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