Thursday May 9, 2019, Pope Francis issued a papal ‘law’ obligating officials in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide to report cases of clergy sexual abuse — and attempts to cover it up — to their superiors. The decree was Francis’ long-anticipated concrete response to address a crisis that has devastated the church and clouded his legacy.
Vatican officials said the pope was trying to enshrine accountability for bishops into church law. Until now, responses to accusations of sexual abuse have differed widely from country to country, and even from diocese to diocese. In some countries where church officials have denied the existence of abuse, there have often been no procedures at all.
The new law does not universally require church officials to report abuse accusations to the police and prosecutors, a decision that was immediately criticized by abuse survivors and their advocates. Vatican officials have argued that a global requirement to report to civil authorities would, in some places, result in victims being ostracized or priests being persecuted. However, the new rules say that church officials should not interfere with investigations by civil authorities.
Significant measures in the new law say that accusers and whistle-blowers are to be protected from retribution; qualified laypeople can assist church officials in their investigations; and initial investigations of abuse cases must be completed within 90 days, speeding up the current process drastically.
The law is the result of a landmark meeting in the Vatican that Francis convened with global church leaders in February, during the scandal’s resurgence, to educate them about a scourge that many of them had denied, played down or seemed to misunderstand.
Text reprinted from an article published in The New York Times, Pope Issues First Rules for Catholic Church Worldwide to Report Sex Abuse.