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Vatican's New Rules Against Child Sex Abusers to Maintain Status Quo

5 years ago
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The Vatican is expected to slightly enhance its rules for punishing clergy who sexually abuse children, but the new policies, likely to be announced within days, will still fall short of what victim advocates say is necessary to protect minors.

Moreover, the changes are seen as fairly minor concessions in a decades-long battle to push Rome to act forcefully against abusers.

In addition, the new policy, which has reportedly been signed by Pope Benedict XVI, still has no provision for dealing with bishops who cover up for molesting priests and it is unlikely to clarify whether or how bishops should report abusers to civil authorities.

The new rules, which Vatican observers say could go into effect within days, will gather norms that have been in place since 2001 to make it easier for the church to defrock or suspend priests accused of abuse. The policies were slightly modified in 2003, after another wave of sexual abuse revelations broke in the United States.

The "instruction," as the new document is called, will be published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the watchdog of orthodoxy that Benedict headed for 23 years when he was a cardinal. It is expected to formally change the church's Code of Canon Law to extend the statute of limitations for abuse cases to 20 years after a victim's 18th birthday, rather than 10 years after his or her 18th birthday, as had been the case.

(Before 1994, the statute of limitations was five years after a victim turned 18, which was seen as even more unrealistic given that it usually takes victims years to come to terms with their abuse and report it, if they are ever able to do so.)

As John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter writes, "the extension of the statute of limitations is not likely to have a dramatic effect, given that the doctrinal congregation already has authority to set it aside on a case-by-case basis" and it has generally used that option in recent years in an effort to defrock priests.

The instruction is also expected to include viewing child pornography as a "grave" crime under the church's own Code of Canon Law and subject to punishment by the Vatican -- though again, priests found to have downloaded child pornography were generally being disciplined already.

However, the new Vatican policies are reportedly not going to include rules on how or whether bishops should report abusive priests to the civil authorities. If true, that would sorely disappoint victim advocates and others who have been pressing Rome for some clarification on that issue.

Many critics say current Vatican policies are not clear as to whether a priest who sexually abuses a child should be dealt with first in internal church forums or whether he should first be reported to the civil authorities.

In April, the Vatican press office issued a statement that included a line about encouraging bishops to follow civil laws on reporting. But that statement was an informal guideline, and one that many conservatives in Rome do not want enshrined in church law. Bishops in the United States had to fight hard in 2002 to get the Vatican to allow them to include a mandate for bishops to follow civil laws on reporting, and there are few similar standards for bishops in other countries.

Allen reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is apparently working on a separate document, which he said was also in the form of a "guidance" rather than binding law, that will address how bishops "around the world can better coordinate the various directives on sexual abuse issued by national conferences of bishops."

But Catholic News Service cites Vatican sources saying no such document was in the works.

The Rev. Davide Cito, a canon lawyer and consultant at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also explained to The Associated Press that since reporting requirements vary from country to country, it would be difficult to set universal policies in a document that is canonically binding on the church around the globe.

The expected policy changes will come after months of fierce criticism of the Vatican's approach to dealing with clergy abusers, and after revelations that have raised doubts about Benedict's track record on the abuse crisis when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, longtime head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

An extensive New York Times investigative story last week detailed Ratzinger's longstanding ambivalence about tackling the scandal of clergy abuse of children and his failure to use many of the tools already at his disposal. Ratzinger and the Vatican acted in 2001, the Times showed, and only after years of intense lobbying by bishops in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world to do something.

The future pope, the Times wrote, was "part of a culture of non-responsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction" in Rome that delayed action as long as possible and then tried to hedge reforms when possible.

Critics will likely interpret the new Vatican rules as falling in the same tradition of almost imperceptible progress.

Interestingly, in a follow-up commentary to the Times article -- which has generated heated debate across the Catholic blogosphere -- a prominent canon lawyer, Nicholas P. Cafardi of Duquesne University, noted that up until the 2001 policy pushed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, there was no statute of limitations in church canon law for the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

A canon law issued in 1922 and reaffirmed in 1962 had no statute of limitations and authorized the Vatican to take the kind of actions that it is only now beginning to enforce, Cafardi told the blog at Commonweal magazine, a leading Catholic periodical. But those canons were superseded by the 2001 policy endorsed by Ratzinger.

"It is unfair to lay this contretemps at the current pope's door," said Cafardi, who since the 1980s had been helping the U.S. bishops lobby Rome for tougher penalties. "He is a theologian, not a canon lawyer, and, like other laymen (nonprofessionals) in the field of canon law, he has to rely on what the experts tell him." But, Cafardi added, "whoever his Vatican canonist colleagues are, they have a lot of explaining to do."

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I don't think the Church will ever get 'fixed' And yes, it IS broke.

July 08 2010 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

again the church plans nothing but coverup. i was raised as a catholic but i am sick of its failure to take action. the bishops and cardinals should be fired as they passed along priests who comminted the crime. p. s. i have stop giving a money to the catholic church.

July 07 2010 at 7:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The catholic church obviously holds priests to a lower standard and has no desire to do what's right in cases of priest's abusing children. This type of behavior must be condemned and there must be zero tolerance in order to protect innocent children. Anyone priest or church official involved in child abuse or in hiding it, must be held accountable. Enough is enough. Let's stop protecting the abuser!

July 07 2010 at 4:18 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

This situation is driven by fear. Fear of change, fear of loss of power, fear of ordinary people in general and women in particular, fear of challenge, fear of civil authority - anything that might upset the status-quo and the concentration of power in the Vatican. The covering up and avoidance of responsibility is far worse for the Church than the abuse itself. As wretched as that might be, a robust, clear, immediate, comprehensive and effective response on the part of the Church would go a long way towards restoring the confidence of its Faithful. Sadly, that is not to be under this Pope.

July 07 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

best way to protect minors is to keep them away from grownups who have put themselves in a position to take advantage of them

July 07 2010 at 12:48 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to glers's comment

THIS IS OUTRAGEOUSLY UNACCEPTABLE! The only appropriate reponse is for the public to reject the church in all facets and forms. Clearly, the world has called for justice and morality from the Vatican, and for protection of our children. The Vatican, again, has failed to assume the moral path. Furthermore, the Vatican has also failed to overtly decline these demands. Instead, refusal is hidden in small twists of text. THE PUBLIC NEEDS TO ASSUME THE MORALLY RESPONSIBLE ROLE AND REJECT THE CHURCH IN ALL MATTERS UNTIL THERE IS OVERWHELMING PROOF THAT JUSTICE IS SERVED AND THE INNOCENT ARE PROTECTED.

July 07 2010 at 8:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Why would anyone continue to be a part of an organization that repeatedly proves they don't care about even the most defenseless innocents within their group? When time after time, they choose the abusers over the abused...why would anyone continue to support them either through membership or monetary compensation? I seriously don't get it. The molestation issue has proven to go far deeper than individual priests, and in fact has been shown to be a systemic problem with the Church and it's hierarchy. The pope protects the abusers, and those who help protect and hide those abuses, while the children are being raped. How can ANYONE justify this system as just or righteous in any way? Members have the power to force change, but they keep attending mass and offering up cash. Why should the Church change when people keep showing up, consequently offering up their children to the molesters, regardless of how apathetic the Church is to their pain? If the members would band together, even engage in a form of strike against the Church's leadership demanding change before any support is reinstated, the Church would acquiesce. So why doesn't that happen? Are people so afraid of this organization, of those in charge within this organization, that withholding support is scarier than offering up your children to abusers? Wake up people! The power is YOURS, but you have to be the one to take it and wield it against these monsters. Until you do, nothing will ever change. Don't choose an organization full of corruption and abuse over the safety of your own children. Take a stand and force change.

July 07 2010 at 10:12 AM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

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