Vatican Fends Off Criticism of Abuse Rules

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The Wall Street Journal

17 July 2010

By STACY MEICHTRY

ROME—The Vatican on Saturday defended recent revisions to its policies for investigating and disciplining priests accused of sexual abuse after critics said the new measures weren’t tough enough to stem the abuse.

In an address on Vatican Radio, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the new measures are “necessary, but they’re not everything,” stressing the Vatican planned to take further steps to fight sex-abuse. “The field is huge. The Church is mobilized, with a push from the pope, in many countries.”

On Thursday, the Vatican unveiled revisions to its policies and laws for handling sex-abuse, doubling the statute of limitations to prosecute abusive priests in church tribunals and streamlining legal procedures. The move came after hundreds of abuse cases emerged this year across Europe, bringing allegations of widespread cover-ups right to Pope Benedict XVI’s doorstep.

Victims of sex-abuse and other critics faulted the Vatican’s revisions for not requiring bishops worldwide to report all cases of sex-abuse to civil authorities. Critics also noted that the revised rules did not establish any sanctions for bishops who covered up abuse.

During a Thursday press conference, Father Lombardi said the Vatican revisions did not include a requirement to report all sex-abuse allegations to civil authorities, because the revised rules only dealt with the church’s internal justice system.

On Saturday, Father Lombardi did not address the question of why the Vatican didn’t introduce sanctions for bishops who cover up abuse. Civil laws “must obviously be respected,” but the church also needs rules that are “commonly shared and autonomous from those of the different countries where it is present,” Father Lombardi said.

Although the Vatican requires church officials to comply with the civil laws of their respective countries, many countries, ranging from Italy to India, do not compel officials to report allegations of abuse.

The priest said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that revised the rules, “will continue to work with and give help to bishops in formulating local directives that are efficacious and up-to-date.”

Officials within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are considering introducing a set of guidelines, or best practices, advising bishops around the world on how to report allegations to civil authorities and take measures to detect and prevent abuse, according to people familiar with the matter. It is unclear if a draft of the guidelines will ever be completed, one of the people said, adding that any policy requiring clerics to report abuse could expose the priests to false accusations in countries where Catholics are persecuted.

“The new laws are extremely important, but we know very well that our commitment … must be a long journey,” Father Lombardi said.

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