Newly appointed bishops have been advised by the Vatican that it’s “not necessarily” their duty to report suspects of clerical child abuse to authorities.
- Only victims, families should report abuse, ‘not necessarily’ bishops, Vatican papers say
- Australian abuse victims, Church calling for law requiring bishops and others to report
- Catholic commentator says advice may be designed for poorer countries, where police cannot always be trusted
The unofficial advice given to senior clergy at an annual global training course held last year was that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.
Victims of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal are reacting angrily to the revelations.
The Australian Catholic Church said it agreed with victims, calling for an Australian federal law requiring the reporting of all abuse victims to police.
The papers were presented at what was described as an annual ‘Vatican crash course’ for about 185 newly named bishops around the world.
The Vatican recently published all of the course’s documents and invited feedback on the training.
Veteran Vatican journalist John Allen said the presentation that focused on the sexual abuse crisis was delivered by a French monsignor.
“It’s not surprising in the sense that there are certainly some in the Catholic Church who would say, ‘Listen, bishops should not be the ones who turn in their priest to the police or the civil prosecutor, that should be up to families and victims’,” he said.
“Now the official position of the Vatican is that bishops should comply with the law of the land wherever they are.”
He said he was more surprised that not one member of a new body set up by Pope Francis to identify “best practices” in the fight against child abuse was involved in the training.
“If you’ve got a body whose whole job is to tell you the right thing to do here, why wouldn’t you want that commission to be the one forming new bishops?” Allen said.
“And the failure to invite representatives from that commission to make a presentation like this — to me that’s the real question.”
Wayne Chamley from Broken Rites, which advocates for Australian victims of clerical sexual abuse, said it was typical of the Vatican’s response to the crisis.
“They will be gobsmacked that such advice is now given to newly consecrated bishops,” he said.
“And it just suggests that despite all the scandal that’s been exposed in Ireland, Britain, America, Australia, officially the church officials have learned nothing and intend not to do much about it.
Bishops and religious leaders also have a moral responsibility beyond the law to inform authorities so that the community can be safe.Francis Sullivan, chief of the Truth, Justice and Healing Commission.
“They want to maintain the separation of the Church and the state, they don’t want police and people with investigatory powers sniffing around in their own backyard.”
In Australia, abuse victims and the Church are calling for a uniform federal law that requires bishops and others to report any allegations of abuse to the police.
That includes Francis Sullivan, chief of the Truth, Justice and Healing Commission, which handles the Catholic Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“Bishops and religious leaders also have a moral responsibility beyond the law to inform authorities so that the community can be safe,” Mr Sullivan said.
“Sometimes the law is not enough, it’s not adequate enough, it’s not farsighted enough, but moral responsibility is, and particularly for bishops and religious leaders, as in Australia, reporting to authorities and the police is a must.”
Mr Sullivan said the Pope’s new body set up to deal with the abuse crisis should be helping train new bishops.
“The Vatican and Church leaders need to be emphatic about what needs to happen,” he said.
“There can’t be any grey in this, they have to be clear, and to have signals coming out of Vatican meetings that are confusing and, at worst, upsetting is just hopeless.”
Course possibly designed for poorer countries
Australian Catholic commentator Paul Collins said it was possible the bishops’ training course was designed for poorer countries where the Church believes police cannot always be trusted.
“These courses are designed by the Vatican to cover the whole world and they tend to be biased in the direction of looking after countries where there is some form of the Church being persecuted,” Mr Collins said.
“The Vatican tends to err on the side of caution and it tends to be unaware of the kind of situation that we are in the Anglo-American world where the police are to be trusted.”
Globally, Mr Collins said, there should not be any confusion about the reporting of abuse.
“The kind of days when the Church saw itself as extra-territorial — somehow beyond the law and that this was something we could deal with in-house — those days are long gone and the Church and bishops and Church authorities simply have no excuse whatsoever not to report these matters,” he said.
The Vatican declined to comment for this story.