All clergy are now required by law to report sexual abuse. Dioceses around the world will also facilitate public reporting.
This is another step forward in the fight against pedophilia and sexual abuse in the Church . The Pope Francis unveiled Thursday 9th May, 2019 a stricter legislation forcing priests and religious to report to the Church suspicion of sexual assault or harassment, and any coverage of such facts by the Catholic hierarchy.
All dioceses around the world are also required within one year to put in place a publicly available system to file reports of potential sexual abuse , which will be reviewed within 90 days.
These decisions were taken in a “motu proprio”, that is to say a letter issued directly by the pope, which modifies the internal legislation of the Church (canon law).
The pontiff nevertheless wished that the secrecy of the confession remain absolute, which excludes a denunciation of facts reported by a faithful in the confessional.
In the introduction to this apostolic letter “You are the light of the world,” Pope Francis emphasizes that “crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological, and spiritual harm to the victims.”
“It is good that universal procedures are adopted to prevent and counter these crimes which betray the trust of the faithful,” he adds.
“In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, can not be reproduced any more, it is necessary a continuous and deep conversion of the hearts, attested by concrete and effective actions which imply each one in the Church.”
Prohibition of “child pornography material”
The text condemns all sexual violence, with a focus on minors and vulnerable people. This includes cases of violence against nuns by clerics, or the harassment of seminarians or novices.
It also recalls that it is prohibited to produce, possess and distribute computer-aided child pornography material.
The hierarchy of the Church is also condemnable in the case of actions “aimed at interfering or evading civil inquiries or canonical, administrative or criminal investigations against a cleric or a religious”, specifies the letter from the pope.
Dioceses or Eparchies (Eastern Churches) must set up “individually or together” one or more devices “easily accessible to the public to allow reporting” on cases of sexual assault, harassment or dissemination of images child pornography, says this text again.
Such standards already exist in some countries, such as the United States , but the pope makes the initiative mandatory worldwide. On the other hand, it remains unclear on the form of these reporting systems put in place by the local churches and which will have to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
No obligation to report to the authorities of the country
Until now clerics and religious denounced cases of violence according to their personal conscience. Great novelty of the text: the Pope makes legally binding throughout the Church the denunciation of sexual abuse “as soon as possible” by priests and religious. Lay people working for the Church are encouraged to report cases of abuse and harassment.
When suspicions concern persons in a hierarchical position, such as cardinals, patriarchs, or bishops, the report may be sent directly to the Holy See or, for example, to a metropolitan archbishop overseeing the bishops of a province.
Church legislation still has no reporting obligation to the country’s judicial authorities, unless the country’s laws make this mandatory. In Italy, for example, the clergy have no obligation to report sexual abuse to justice.
The motu proprio, which also details rules for the conduct of investigations, does not change the sentences already provided for by the Church’s legislation.
In February, Pope Francis called for “concrete and effective” measures at the beginning of an unprecedented summit in the Vatican to combat the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by members of the clergy, in response to victims who want an electroshock.