“Vatican tell bishops to root out sexual abuse” and other articles re Vatican letter

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Reuters

16 May 2011

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY | Mon May 16, 2011 9:10am EDT

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican told bishops around the world Monday that they must make it a global priority to root out sexual abuse of children by priests.

The Roman Catholic Church told bishops in a letter that they should cooperate with civil authorities to end the abuse that has tarnished its image around the world.

“This is telling the world that we mean business. We want to be an example of prevention and care,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The letter is intended to help every diocese draw up its own tough guidelines, based on a global approach but in line with local civil law. These must be sent to the Vatican for review within a year.

“The responsibility for dealing with delicts (crimes) of sexual abuse of minors by clerics belongs in the first place to the diocesan bishop,” the letter says.

It incorporates sweeping revisions made last year to the Church’s laws on sexual abuse, which doubled a statute of limitations for disciplinary action against priests and extended the use of fast-track procedures to defrock them.

The Vatican has for years been struggling to control the damage that sexual abuse scandals in the United States and several European countries, including Pope Benedict’s native Germany, have done to the Church’s image.

PARAMOUNT PRINCIPLE

“This goes beyond what was done before,” the Vatican official said. “It is setting up a standard of best principles, best policy to be followed globally. It makes protection of minors a paramount principle and takes a long-term view because it talks about the formation of future priests.”

The scandal has led to the resignation of bishops in several countries. Last year, Benedict begged forgiveness from God and from abuse victims, and said the church would do everything in its power to ensure that it never happened again.

The Vatican official said that if local civil legislation requires that bishops report sex offenders directly to authorities, they are obliged to do so and the guidelines will include this.

Victims groups said they were not satisfied.

“There’s no “zero tolerance” or “mandatory reporting” requirement. There’s no insistence that bishops warn their flock about child molesting clerics. There’s nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year,” said SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The letter tells bishops they must be prepared to listen to the victims and their families and be committed to their spiritual and psychological assistance. Bishops must be more careful in choosing candidates for the priesthood in order to weed out early those who are or could become sex abusers.

It says that while those accused of being sexual abusers have to be treated fairly and with due process, those who are known to be abusers must be excluded from the public ministry.

In many of the cases of sexual abuse around the world, local bishops allowed known abusers to be moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Mark Heinrich)

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Vatican Urges New Rules on Abuse by Clergy

The New York Times
 
Published: May 16, 2011

 

By RACHEL DONADIO

 

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Monday told bishops worldwide to make fighting sexual abuse of minors by clerics a priority, demanding that they create “clear and coordinated” procedures by next year and cooperate with civil law when required.

The letter is one of the clearest Vatican directives since a sexual abuse scandal erupted in Europe last year. But its recommendations were not binding and stopped short of universalizing the so-called “zero-tolerance” norms in place in the United States and other countries, in which a priest is removed from ministry while claims against him are investigated.

The guidelines noted that the sexual abuse of minors by clerics is not only punishable by church law but is also “a crime prosecuted by civil law.” But they played down the role of civilian review boards that have been investigating abuse in some countries, including Ireland, saying they “cannot substitute” for bishops’ ultimate authority in adjudicating abuse cases.

The Vatican said the document was essentially aimed at making bishops around the world more responsive — especially in countries where they have not routinely tackled the problem of sexual abuse of minors — or even dismissed it.

“The aim of the document is to provide a common denominator for principles that everyone can bear in mind in making appropriate directives,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Monday. “Each reality is different, culturally and from the point of view of different countries’ law.”

The letter appeared to address the concerns of some bishops who had complained in the past of confusion over procedures. It stated that local bishops were required to investigate all claims and send all cases deemed “credible” to the Vatican for review.

But victims’ rights groups complained the letter did not go far enough. “Where’s the beef?” the Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests, a leading victims’ rights groups in the United States, said in a statement. “There’s no enforcement here. There are no penalties for bishops who don’t come up with guidelines or who violate their own guidelines.”

“Until that happens — until top church officials who hide and enable abuse are severely disciplined — top church officials will continue to hide and enable abuse,” it said.

The guidelines incorporated revisions made last year to the church’s procedures in prosecuting sexual abuse, including extending the use of fast-track procedures against priests and doubling the statute of limitation for disciplinary action against priests to 10 years from the victim’s 18th birthday.

The letter came after a sex abuse scandal swept the Catholic Church in Europe in March 2010, calling into question the actions of the pope himself, who as archbishop of Munich in the early 1980s had presided over a diocese where a known pedophile was transferred.

Asked why it took the Vatican more than a year to issue guidelines that did not alter church law, Father Lombardi said that the letter had to be vetted by multiple Vatican offices. “Obviously, someone can say that at important and urgent moments, it’s better to treat the issue quickly and swiftly, but if there are delicate and complex issues to consider, it’s good for there to be consensus,” he said.

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Abusers must face justice, says Vatican

The Sydney Morning Herald

16 MAy 2011 – 10:24PM

AFP

Priests suspected of child-abuse sex crimes should be turned over to the authorities and face legal action, the Vatican says in a letter to bishops on anti-pedophilia guidelines.

The letter laid out provisional procedures against priest sex-abuse crimes and gave bishops a year to deliberate the proposals following a scandal that has spread across the globe and struck the Catholic Church at its core.

“Sex abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict but also a crime prosecuted by civil law … (and) the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed,” said the letter, released on Monday.

“The guidelines … seek to protect minors and to help victims in finding assistance and reconciliation.”

The letter said it was up to bishops to notify the authorities in the case of a suspected pedophile priest.

The guidelines “not only concern cases of abuse committed by clerics, but also those cases which involve religious or lay persons who function in ecclesiastical situations”.

The letter was published in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish, and urged bishops to ensure the Church gives “spiritual and psychological assistance” to victims and their families.

But the letter was dismissed before publication by a US victims’ group, Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which called for internationally-binding policies instead of guidelines.

“We are very disappointed,” said David Clohessy of SNAP, adding that the guidelines were “belated and very grudging”.

“As an absolute minimum there should be a global no-tolerance policy. Fundamentally, the reason that Church officials ignore, conceal and mishandle sex crimes is because they can.”

The Vatican has come under severe pressure in recent years over pedophilia and the scandal of child-abuser priests peaked last year with a string of high-profile revelations in Belgium, Germany and Ireland.

The Holy See has been accused of being slow to out perverse priests.

Last month, Amnesty International said the Vatican was still failing to meet its international obligations to protect children.

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Vatican suggests bishops report abuse to police

Associated Press

16 May 2011

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican told bishops around the world Monday that it was important to cooperate with police in reporting priests who rape and molest children and said they should develop guidelines for preventing sex abuse by next May.

But the suggestions in the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are vague and nonbinding and contain no enforcement mechanisms to ensure bishops actually draft the guidelines or follow them.

That is a significant omission given the latest scandal in the United States involves allegations Philadelphia’s archbishop left accused priests in ministry despite purportedly tough U.S. guidelines, and evidence that Irish bishops weren’t cooperating with an independent board overseeing compliance with the guidelines of the church in Ireland.

The document marks the latest effort by the Vatican to show it’s serious about rooting out priestly pedophiles and preventing abuse following the eruption on a global scale of the abuse scandal last year with thousands of victims coming forward.

But it failed to impress advocates for victims who have long blamed the power of bishops bent on protecting the church and its priests for fueling the scandal. Without fear of punishment themselves, bishops frequently moved pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police or punishing them under church law.

“There’s nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the main U.S. victims group Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests.

Critically, the letter reinforces bishops’ exclusive authority in dealing with abuse cases. It says independent lay review boards that have been created in some countries to oversee the church’s child protection policies and ensure compliance “cannot substitute” for bishops’ judgment and power.

Recently, such lay review committees in the U.S. and Ireland have reported that some bishops “failed miserably” in following their own guidelines and had thwarted the boards’ work by withholding information and by enacting legal hurdles that made ensuring compliance impossible.

“Our central concern is that bishops and religious leaders retain enormous discretionary powers to decide if an allegation is credible,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of the Irish victims group One in Four.

“Clergymen do not have the skills or expertise to make sound decisions in this regard: that is a matter for law enforcement and child protection specialists,” Lewis said, calling the Vatican letter “dangerously flawed.”

In the letter, the Vatican told the bishops “it is important to cooperate” with civil law enforcement authorities and follow civil reporting requirements, though it doesn’t make such reporting mandatory. The Vatican has said such a binding rule would be problematic for priests working in countries with repressive regimes.

The letter told the bishops’ conferences to draft guidelines for preventing abuse and caring for victims and report them back to the Congregation by May 2012. It said bishops should be prepared to listen to victims, to create “safe environment” programs for minors and to better screen seminarians and ensure they receive proper training about celibacy and the damage done to victims of sex abuse.

It did not mention possible financial compensation for victims.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed that such measures are to be taken up on a case-by-case basis and that such a recommendation didn’t belong in a general letter of guidance being issued by Rome.

The letter stresses that accused priests are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That too is the case of the U.S. norms, which were enacted after the abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002. But the U.S. norms nevertheless bar credibly accused priests from any public church work if sufficient evidence is found that they abused a minor. Clergy found guilty are permanently barred from public ministry and, in some cases, ousted from the priesthood.

The guidance given to bishops in the letter Monday makes no mention of removing priests but reminds bishops that they are “always able to limit the exercise of the cleric’s ministry until the accusations are clarified.”

The U.S. norms were approved by the Vatican and are church law in the United States. The Vatican said Monday that if other bishops’ conferences want to make their guidelines binding too they must submit them to Rome for review, though it cautioned that they cannot in any way circumvent canon law.

The letter is being issued at a time when the U.S. norms have been put into question after a Philadelphia grand jury earlier this year indicted a high-ranking church official on child endangerment charges for allegedly transferring predator priests. Four co-defendants — two priests, an ex-priest and a former Catholic school teacher — are charged with raping children.

The grand jury found “substantial evidence of abuse” committed by at least 37 other priests who remained in active ministry at the time of the report. Philadelphia’s archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, initially insisted that no archdiocesan priests in ministry had an “admitted or established allegation” against them. But he later suspended two dozen of the 37 priests.

The scandal exposed some of the loopholes in the Vatican-approved U.S. norms that leave it entirely up to bishops to determine the credibility of allegations; the new Vatican instruction confirms that by both reinforcing bishops’ responsibility and authority and seemingly diminishing the importance of lay review boards in checking their compliance.

Last week, the head of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s lay review board publicly accused Rigali and his bishops of having “failed miserably at being open and transparent” because they prescreened which cases the board reviewed and left out crucial information for some priests they did review.

And last week, Ireland’s National Board for Safeguarding Children, a church-appointed independent panel overseeing compliance with Ireland’s guidelines, said it had been prevented from fulfilling its mandate to review diocesan responses to abuse cases by bishops’ legal concerns about the priests’ privacy.

On Friday, Amnesty International listed the Vatican in its annual report of global human rights abuses, citing revelations of clerical abuse around the world and the “enduring failure” of the church to address the crimes properly.

“Such failures included not removing alleged perpetrators from their posts pending proper investigations, not co-operating with judicial authorities to bring them to justice and not ensuring proper reparation to victims,” Amnesty said in its report.

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