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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