VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Thursday passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse in the Catholic Church to report it to their superiors, in a move which could bring countless new cases to light.
It follows a series of clerical assault cases in countries ranging from Australia to Chile, Germany and the US.
Every diocese in the world will now be obliged to have a system for the reporting of abuse, under a new law published by the Vatican following a global clerical paedophilia scandal.
It is time to learn from the “bitter lessons of the past”, Francis said in the text of the legal decree, which comes into effect on June 1.
The “Motu Proprio”, a legal document issued under the pope’s personal authority, declares that anyone who has knowledge of abuse, or suspects it, is “obliged to report [it] promptly” to the Church, using “easily accessible systems”.
Under the new measure, every diocese around the world is obliged by June 2020 to create a system for the reporting of sexual abuse by clerics, the use of child pornography and cover-ups of abuse.
The law could see the Vatican inundated with reports of abuse or cover-ups, as it applies retroactively, meaning those who know about old cases are obliged to flag them up as well.
The impact “likely will be felt most intensely outside the West, since places such as the US, Canada and some parts of Western Europe [though, ironically, not the pope’s backyard in Italy], already have fairly robust reporting systems,” said Vatican expert John Allen, on the online religious newspaper Crux Now.
“The Motu Proprio shows Pope Francis expects swift and comprehensive progress,” commented Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the Bishops’ Conference in the United States, where thousands have people have reported abuse. It will “empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold”, he said.
The document focuses particularly on the sexual or psychological abuse of children and vulnerable adults, but also targets sexual abuse and violence resulting from an abuse of authority — such as the exploitation of nuns by priests.
“The new norms … are exhaustive in scope, applying in some way to every ordained or vowed member of the 1.3 billion-person church,” Vatican watcher Joshua McElwee wrote in the National Catholic Reporter.
That raises the question as to how realistic it is for the Vatican to promise a response to reports within 30 days, particularly considering there are scores of cases currently backlogged, Allen said. Victims’ groups have long called for Francis to put in place concrete measures to tackle clerical child abuse, but they want more, including the immediate dismissal of any cleric found guilty of even a single act of abuse, or of covering it up.