Opinion: Kieran Tapsell responds to release of Vatican “vademecum” or handbook in dealing with clerical abuse allegations.

Kieran Tapsell Vatican Vademecum

Title: Opinion: Kieran Tapsell responds to release of Vatican “vademecum” or handbook in dealing with clerical abuse allegations.

Author: Kieran Tapsell

Publisher: Pontifical Secret website.

Date: 18JUL2020

Kieran Tapsell

It is true that Pope Francis has not made reporting to the civil authorities mandatory under canon law. The problem with his failing to do this in the past was that there was no way in which a bishop who covered up could be punished for doing so. Canon law, like all coherent legal systems, specifically says that no one can be punished under it unless they have breached the law. However, the publication of the manual does mean that a bishop can be punished under canon law for negligence in office, because the standard of care that is now required is that reporting to the civil authorities should take place where the victim or other children are at risk.

While no doubt priest sex abusers should be punished under the civil law, but the most important consideration should always be the welfare of children. That is an interesting change of culture because canon law for at least 100 years was more concerned about protecting abusive priests than the welfare of children. Even the excuse that Pope Francis’ spokespersons made that mandatory reporting could not be imposed because there were repressive regimes was based on concern about priests and not about children.

In 2002 in the United States and 2010 elsewhere, when the Vatican required bishops to comply with civil reporting laws, it was obvious that the cultural concern of the Vatican was not the welfare of children, but the protection of bishops and cardinals from going to jail for obeying the pontifical secret and not reporting. It meant that the protection given by civil laws to children depended on whether they happened to be living in a State which had comprehensive reporting laws. For children in jurisdictions that didn’t, it was just their bad luck. It is also interesting that the “repressive regime” excuse has not been written into the manual, although it can be expected that the broad scope of “negligence in office” might allow that excuse to be used in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Law and culture have always had an intimate connection, and the changes to the law by the abolition of the pontifical secret and the possibility of a bishop being punished under canon law for a cover up have marked a change in culture since the 1917 Code of Canon Law and Crimen Sollicitationis in 1922.

The Church is finally restoring its tradition that was expressed in canon law for 15 centuries of regarding the sexual abuse of children by clergy as a crime that should be punished by the civil authorities.

Comment: Thank you Kieran. I value your critical analysis and expertise.

I’m happily influenced by Kieran Tapsell, author of  “Potiphar’s Wife: The Secret of the Holy Office and Child Sexual Abuse”.  I recommend Tapsell’s book, his research and views on “Crimen Sollicitationis” and “Pontifical Secret”).

Link to Kieran’s book:

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