On Thursday, the Vatican reportedly directed Bishops across the world to report sexual offences committed against minors by predator priests, even when they are not legally obliged to do so. The Vatican has also released a manual for bishops and religious superiors to conduct an internal investigation into sexual offences perpetrated against young children and vulnerable adults. As per reports, despite the existence of canonical norms, the laws are often neglected by Bishops.
Unlike the existing Vatican policy about cooperating with the law enforcement in sex crimes only when it is compulsory, the new manual directs Bishops to report all such crimes even when there is no explicit legal obligation. “Even in cases where there is no explicit legal obligation to do so, the ecclesiastical authorities should make a report to the competent civil authorities if this is considered necessary to protect the person involved or other minors from the danger of further criminal acts,” the manual emphasised. The manual reiterated that Bishops and other Church authorities must oblige with subpoena requests.
Reportedly, the manual has been issued in several languages such as Italian, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and German to prevent Bishops from citing excuses for not conducting the preliminary investigation against predators within the Church. The manual further directed Bishops to not ignore anonymous allegations or even social media posts as they can be used to conduct a preliminary investigation. Moreover, the manual stated that allegations shall not be ignored under the pretext that they do not fall within the limitations of the Church. The Vatican added that allegations can only be dismissed if the Bishop believes that the chain of events leading up to the assault is improbable.
Vatican warns Bishops against ‘negligence’
The manual stated that sexual offences include sexual relations, physical contacts for gratification, exhibitionism, masturbation, pornography production, and conversions of a sexual nature. The Vatican also listed physical contact with sexual intent as an offence which is often dismissed by Bishops as boundary violations. The manual, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cautioned that Bishops can be canonically punished if found dismissive of serious allegations or negligent about conducting a preliminary investigation.
Sex abuse summit of 2019
In 2019, Pope Francis led a sex abuse summit and issued 21 points to help Bishops investigate and prevent abuse by church priests. He realised that many bishops did not understand the gravity of the sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church. One of the recommendations was to issue a detailed handbook that could provide step-by-step instruction. Reportedly, the Vatican had been a long proponent of not encouraging Bishops to report perverted priests under the pretext that it can lead to the persecution of the Catholic priests in countries where they are a minority.