Vatican Tells Bishops to Report Sex Abuse to Police (but Doesn’t Require It)

Bishops SHOULD not MUST

: Vatican Tells Bishops to Report Sex Abuse to Police (but Doesn’t Require It)
Author: Elisabetta Povoledo
Publisher: New York Times
Date: 06JUL2020
Advocates for abuse victims had long asked the Roman Catholic Church to make this change, but said the new guidance still gives bishops too much leeway.

ROME — The Vatican has told bishops around the world to report cases of clerical sex abuse to civil authorities even where local laws don’t require it — a step that abuse victims and their advocates have demanded over the decades in which the scandal has roiled the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican also urged bishops to investigate even abuse claims that seem to be “doubtful,” or are made anonymously, rather than dismissing them outright.

But the new instructions are not binding and were not enshrined in the church’s canon law, prompting criticism that the Vatican still gives bishops too much leeway in judging the conduct of their priests. The instructions were instead part of a new handbook intended to guide bishops and religious superiors who may have little experience handling abuse cases.

“What is important to remember today is that it is still allowable under canon law for a bishop to not report a priest who is raping a child; it is still allowed for thousands of the world’s bishops,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, a victims advocacy and research group, said in a telephone interview.

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2 thoughts on “Vatican Tells Bishops to Report Sex Abuse to Police (but Doesn’t Require It)”

  1. 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 interest 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 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.

    • Thank you Kieran. I am very grateful to you. You are my critical source on the analysis of the sorrowful scourge of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. Regards 👨‍👨‍👧 B4 ⛪️ Joolsmagools®

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