Vatican advisory to develop clear and effective protocols on sexual abuse” & related article

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After its first meeting at the Vatican, the advisory board on sexual abuse has said it is to develop clear and effective protocols to hold bishops and other church authorities accountable.  (Germany)

03 May 2014

Member of the Vatican’s sexual abuse advisory board, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said current church laws could hold bishops accountable if they fail to protect children. But he said those laws had not been sufficient to date and new protocols were needed.

“Obviously our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with the situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” O’Malley told reporters at the Vatican on Saturday.

That could include an effort toward creating an “open process” that “would hold people accountable for their responsibility to protect children.”

O’Malley said the commission would also address how to advise bishops’ conferences to improve their own guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse. The Italian bishops’ conference said recently they were under no legal obligation to report suspected abuse to police.

In a concluding statement the advisory board said church accountability was “especially important” to the members and that in their founding statutes they would emphasize the “devastating consequences” for victims when suspected abuse is not reported.

O’Malley’s predecessor in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned his post after a sex abuse scandal was uncovered in 2002. But Pope John Paul II then appointed Law as archpriest of one of the Vatican’s four major basilicas in Rome.

Pope Francis announced the creation of the commission last December and named its members in March.

Marie Collins, a committee member and Irish survivor of sexual abuse, said she came away from the inaugural meeting of the commission “hopeful” primarily because the issue of accountability had been addressed.

“I know there are many survivors around the world who are hoping, and have great expectations of this commission,” Collins said. “And what I can say so far is you can’t make concrete promises. But as a survivor myself, I am hopeful that we are going to achieve what is hoped for. It’s very, very important.”

jm/ccp (AP, AFP)


Marie Collins spoke in Rome after the first meetings of the church’s new child protection body. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish TimesMarie Collins spoke in Rome after the first meetings of the church’s new child protection body. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Clerical sex abuse campaigner Marie Collins today said that she had a “positive” feeling about the Holy See’s new child protection body, the Pontifical Commission for Minors.

Speaking at a Vatican press conference at the end of three days of meetings in Rome, Ms Collins, who is one of eight people currently serving on the commission, said: “I come away with a very positive feeling from the meetings.

“We are coming from very different perspectives but we all have one aim in mind, the protection of children and part of that is accountability for those who don’t protect children.

“I am happy at the moment that the meeting is addressing the issues I hoped it would address. Obviously we are just starting and you can only achieve a certain amount in two days but I think that what we have achieved in these two days has given us a very good idea of the direction we want to go in, what our initial aims will be.”

The Council for Minors, which contains four women, five lay people and three anglophones, was originally announced last December but it was holding its first meetings this week.

At today’s news conference, Ms Collins was flanked by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley who is the de facto commission head.

Asked about the fact that the Italian Bishops Conference recently ruled that its Bishops had no “legal” obligation to mandatorily report abuser priests, Cardinal O’Malley said:

“Accountability clearly cannot be ‘legal”, obviously it has to be ‘moral’…I would say these are exactly the sort of issues we would hope to deal with.

“We will not be dealing with individual cases. Rather our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols in place.

“We be will dealing with the whole issue of accountability for everyone in the church regardless of their status, both with regard to those who perpetrate (sex crimes) and those who cover up.

“It has been reported to me that some people do not see this as a problem for the Universal Church, so a lot of our recommendations are going to be about education.

“How we implement policies, how we monitor ourselves that is all part of child protection.”

Asked about recent remarks by Pope Francis when the he had said the Catholic Church had moved with “transparency and responsibility” in relation to its sex abuse crisis, Ms Collins said she had found “difficulty” with what the pope had said.

“But what I would say now is that we are looking forward, not back and there has been progress.

“The problem is the universality of the progress and what the commission is here to do is ensure that what happens in the future is going to be worldwide and not patchy in places.”

Ms Collins said there had been “many improvements”.

“For example in my own country we have good safeguarding policies in place…but there is still the need for a lot education about child protection in many areas of the Church.”

“In that regard what shocked me most about the (Jesuit-run) sex abuse symposium here in Rome two years ago was not the denial, rather it was the sincerity of some Bishops who felt the problem did not exist in their country and couldn’t exist there because of their culture.

“They weren’t denying it, rather they truly believed that it wouldn’t happen in their country, that it only happened in certain places and that is the sort of thing that (sex abuse) education has to deal with.”

Ms Collins also confirmed that she and the other members of the commission had met twice with Pope Francis yesterday.

“I was very pleased to meet with him. However, I would also like to say that I am aware that there are many, many survivors around the world who have great hopes and expectations of this commission and I would say that you cannot make concrete promises.

“Yet, as a survivor myself, I am hopeful that we are going to achieve something. But it is very, very early days.”

Asked about the fact that the Holy See is again due to find itself in the dock when it is scheduled to appear before the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture early next week, Marie Collins found herself in agreement with the Holy See when saying that “state sponsored torture” was “ an entirely different thing” from sex abuse crimes.

Yesterday, senior Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi had argued that the attempt to involve the issue of the sexual abuse of minors in the discussion on torture was “instrumental and forced”.

2 Responses to Vatican advisory to develop clear and effective protocols on sexual abuse” & related article

  1. Sylvia says:

    I’m not sure what I think. It is good indeed that there has apparently been a focus on accountability of those who have not, as Cardinal O’Mally has said, ” fulfilled their obligations to protect children.”

    I could be mistaken but I don’t believe that will be accomplished without amending the Code of Canon Law.

    The same holds true on how the council plans to go about “advising” bishops conferences. Bishops conferences have no authority over individual bishops. In other words, any individual bishop who fails to adhere to a conference of Catholic bishops ‘sex abuse guidelines’ is free to do so. I fear here that the Cardinal is tap dancing – if there is a will to protect children and to hold those who fail to do so accountable then the code must clearly reflect that will.

    And why is there not something in the Code of Canon Law which, at least in the Western world, demands such reporting? I say Western world because I realize that there may be instances where a priest suspect is literally drawn and quartered without a fair trial. How much proof do we need that we are still in so many areas of the world lacking bishops who are prepared to take the moral high road?

    I have concerns too regarding the name of this commission: the “Council for Minors.” What will be the definition of “minor.” Will it exclude 16 year-olds? 17-year-olds? Which victims will be excluded? Will clerical molesters who sodomize 18 year-old boys or rape 18-year-old girls elude ?

    Yes, I realize that the group has met only once, and have not yet set another meet dater, and who knows at this rate how long it will take, but – I have concerns.

    I must admit however that I agree with both Marie Collins and the Vatican that “state sponsored torture” is “ an entirely different thing” from sex abuse crimes. I must check out what is going on with that.

    There is also mention made by the press on the failure of the Italian bishops to include in their protocols a duty to report to police. Yes, as the Cardinal says, there is a need for accountability to “moral,” but why can it not also be legal? As I have said in the past, we have exactly the same situation here in Canada where provincial laws demand reporting to a provincial organization such as Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society or its equivalent and NOT to police. Our bishops in turn do NOT demand reporting to police.

    So, yes, it would be good if bishops took the moral high road and called police. But, why do so-called civilized countries not demand that every single suspect case of child sex abuse be reported to police?

  2. Deborah Kloos says:

    I think any person in a position of power should be accountable if they sexually abuse someone in an unequal relationship. It is unethical for a doctor to have sex with his patient even if they are the same age. He would lose his medical licence for this behaviour. I always thought if we suspected abuse or neglect of any kind, as citizens, we are legally obligated to report it to authorities or we could be liable. It is condoning the crime not to report it and just as bad as the person committing the crime. Catholics would call this a sin of omission. Wouldn’t the law call this embedding in a crime? I thought they would already be accountable by law for not reporting abuse.

    Whether the person is 16 or 18, the priest is the spiritual leader and the relationship is unequal. He must be liable for his behaviour.
    The other part is that the Catholic Church should have a moral accountability to this abuse. If the Catholic Church prays for people, why don’t they remember victims of abuse in prayer? I have requested this for years since I came back to the faith. It is easier to sue the church for money than for the bishop to grant a request for a yearly mass for abuse victims. It really bothers me that they don’t want to do this. There are many people wounded in the Catholic Church who still come to mass.

    I just feel very discouraged sometimes but I focus on my faith in God that one day, the right things will happen.

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