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May 16th, 2011
05:43 AM ET

Vatican's new sex abuse guidelines don't require reporting

By Richard Allen Greene and Hada Messia

New Vatican guidelines aimed at fighting child abuse by priests tell Catholic bishops they should cooperate with police, but do not order them to report allegations to the authorities.

"Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict but also a crime prosecuted by civil law," says the letter to bishops around the world, using the Vatican term for a violation of church law.

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Local laws on reporting suspected crimes to the authorities "should always be followed," the guidelines say.

The new Vatican advice gives national conferences of bishops until May next year to come up with their own guidelines on how to handle allegations of abuse.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi conceded that there was little new in Monday's letter, but said breaking new ground was not the point - standardizing the church's response to abuse allegations was.

Read more coverage of the Roman Catholic Church

"Novelty is not the aim of the document," he said. "The aim of the letter is to have a common denominator of principles."

Many countries' bishops' conferences already have plans in place, but some - such as Italy - do not, Lombardi said.

"For some that have already started dealing with the problem, this letter is an encouragement, and some who have never worked on it will now start dealing with it," Lombardi said.

Bishops in Belgium and the Netherlands - both facing sex abuse scandals - are working on their own sets of guidelines. Other nations, such as Brazil, Germany, and many English-speaking countries already have them, Lombardi said.

Advocates for victims said even before they were released that they would not solve the problem.

"Bishops ignore and conceal child sex crimes because they can," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "So any 'reform' that doesn't diminish bishops' power and discretion is virtually meaningless."

And the new Vatican statement will not require bishops to report suspected abusers to the police, he anticipated.

"They aren't binding or mandatory, just suggestions," he said. "Such voluntary 'guidelines' have been widely ignored for years in the past. Top church staff have known of clergy sex crimes and cover ups for decades, if not centuries."

Clohessy spoke to CNN before seeing the Vatican's statement.

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The Catholic Church has been reeling in the face of accusations of child abuse from across the United States and Europe, and stretching back decades.

In the United States, eight Catholic dioceses and one Jesuit order have filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of lawsuits by victims, according to BishopAccountability, which tracks reports of abuse by priests.

The scandal has now spread to Philadelphia, where  four priests and a parochial school teacher pleaded not guilty last month to sexual abuse and conspiracy charges.

A Philadelphia grand jury report released in February led to criminal charges against them by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. All five have also been charged with conspiracy.

A total of 23 priests in the Philadelphia area have been placed on administrative leave.

And a series of government-backed reports in deeply Catholic Ireland found a pattern of abuse and systematic cover-ups by church officials stretching back to the 1930s.

The Vatican says only a tiny percentage of priests abuse children, and that it is taking steps to fight the problem, including defrocking priests or forcing them into positions where they do not have contact with the public.

Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules last year aimed at stopping abuse.

They included doubling the statute of limitations on the church's own prosecution of suspected molesters from 10 to 20 years, making it a church crime for a priest to download child pornography, and allowing the pope to defrock a priest without a formal Vatican trial.

Monday's guidelines, known officially as a Circular Letter from the Vatican to Catholic bishops' conferences around the world, are a follow-up to last year's statement from the pope, "motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Sex abuse • Vatican

soundoff (424 Responses)
  1. Jess

    It upsets me that all the good men that serve in RCC are being scorned and looked at as pedophiles when it is a small group that actually is guilty of the charges. There are something like 406411 Catholic priests out there in the world (according to a 2005 census) and less than half of 1% have been charged with a crime. I agree there should have been no molestations having taken place at all, ever, BUT to condemn an entire religion because of less than half of 1%? It seems ridiculous and it makes me sad to see such a powerful, beautiful religion being condemned by people that are misinformed and led to believe it's the majority of the religion and not the very very minute minority. No, I'm not Catholic, but I am educated and don't pass judgement where it's not my place to and especially not before I know the facts.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • mattmchugh

      The fact is, Jess, abuse cases within the Catholic Church were systemic and - more importantly - systematically covered up for generations. If only a tiny percentage of priests have been charged, many more were secretly guilty. And, if in aggregate, that only amounts to a very small minority of actual clergy, it doesn't alter the fact that it was Church's POLICY to hide and protect - and re-deploy - known molesters to save itself from embarrassment.

      No, of all organizations on Earth, the Catholic Church is one that should be to a higher moral standard.

      - mm

      May 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  2. mattmchugh

    To paraphrase Alan Moore's paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson: "People shouldn't fear their Church; the Church should fear its people."

    Keep an eye on your local priests, folks. Don't trust them to police each other.

    - mm

    May 16, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  3. marcia

    the Catholic Church is and always has been a criminal organization. I doubt that Jesus Christ would be proud of what these scoundrels have done to his message. They should all be rounded up and prosecuted. Including the "pope"!

    May 16, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  4. Stevie7

    Is it a surprise to anyone that 1 in 10 Americans consider themselves ex-Catholic. I would imagine that if it were not for familial pressure, that number would be far higher.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  5. bob schoos

    The Catholic church will remain a disgrace for all time.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  6. James

    The Catholic Church won't even condone 2 men getting married, but they look the other way when one of their "men" molests little boys. Just plain wrong.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  7. i cant belive is not butter

    We are probaly better of praying at home with the family,than to go to these churchs and that hide these molestors........god is every where.not just at church.....and god know what's going on...you can't fool god...

    May 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  8. Martin

    Of course the rules don't require reporting. Why would a worldwide organization of pedophiles want to report their behavior ?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  9. Joshua Ludd

    Of course they aren't required to report abuse. This is all just window dressing to appease their critics within the church without making any real change. This isn't as much about being okay with abuse as much as it is continuing the coverup because mother church is far more important to them than these children. It is also about refusing to actually let the laity have any real power, and giving in to their demands for change in policy on abuse would start to give them real power. This is right up there with Sean O'Malley replacing Bernard Law as Bishop in Boston. He was there to smile and glad hand Boston Catholics and assure them that everything was fine now... to clean up the mess left by Law without giving up any of the church's power. He did that and was quickly rewarded for it by being made a Cardinal.... much as Bernard Law was when he was whisked away to the Vatican before he could be on the wrong end of an investigation or an indictment. No, this man was not excommunicated. He wasn't given a post with no power at all in the middle of nowhere. He was given a comfy, lucrative new position at the Vatican. That really says it all.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  10. Nivek

    Oh boy, another letter. Problem solved. (Was it in Latin?) I (speaking as the Pope) believe there should be world peace. I'll issue a letter. There, that problem is solved as well.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  11. cornholio

    It is okay to molest children, steal money from mindless sheeps, brainwashthe masses, lie, cheat, commit horrible atrocities, because as long as you believe in Jesus, you will be saved. Religon should be illegal.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  12. FifthApe

    They still don't get it.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Jesus

      Oh they get it! They get it every chance they can. This is a sick organization.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  13. CM

    They should be in prison where they belong. And if they don't report abuse then they should be tried as accessories. It is against the law not to report abuse. Common people are held accountable for not reporting abuse, so why aren't they?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  14. the voice of reason

    God is a murderer, so why can't priests mo-lest kids? It just makes sense.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Becky

      God is not a murderer; the priests should be ashamed. If you are saved, it is your duty as a Christian to be Christ-like and guide others to salvation and honor God in all your words and actions. They will be judged in the end and God will punish those who have fallen. God's wrath is to be feared, no matter who you are.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  15. the voice of reason

    God and Jesus love pedophiles, otherwise they wouldn't exist in the church.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Noname

      You are so wrong. These actions are despised by all good, no matter what religion. Jesus is weeping over this I'm sure.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Sally

      You are far from being "the voice of reason". Do you think that God controls us all like puppets and "allows" bad in the world? Have you not heard of freedom of choice? God put us here and left the rest up to us, to make decisions and take control of our lives. If you make a bad decision, don't try to blame it on God. Its all on you.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  16. DrGMG

    Sick...

    May 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  17. blackcurry

    The good ole boy catholic church hierarchy will burn in hell for their sin of protecting child molesters. Looking into the church's past, the sheer volume of sin, debauchery, selfishness and greed is overwhelming. I cannot believe that Jesus intended his "church" to become such a vile organization.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • CM

      Jesus never intended the Catholic Church. Jesus was a peace loving hippy! He lived in a commune and walked all over preaching peace and love and forgiveness. When he said my church is on this rock, he didn't mean literally. He meant that church could be anywhere. His idea of church and communion was just having people gather together in love and spirit. That's all man!

      May 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  18. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Same old, same old. Yes, we must sweep these allegations under the carpet lest anyone think there is a problem with the Church.
    Stuff like this and the problem with divorced, remarried people are why I left the RC church for something more tolerant of our lives and more open in their operations.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  19. Liz

    the best reason not to go to "church". It's a haven for child rapists. I will never understand why anyone is willing to risk taking their kids to such a place. It's disgusting. The pope and his worthless bishops should all be thrown into prison for condoning the abuse of children!!

    May 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      Agree I'm a true beliver of god, but the catholic curch includeing their leader the pope,have make me question the cathlic church...not god "but the catholic leaders and priest not all of coures....but the leader it self ( the pope) how can you want such a law? And how can you deffend this? How can you keep these people and hide their true aiddentety?. How?......I true to god but I belive these curches and not just catholic are out to get money.....not all of coures......

      May 16, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • ricardo

      totally agree. extremely well organized crime is what it is.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Amazing Bob From Beyond The 23rd Century ! ! !

      The best reason not to go to church is that religion is BS, a badly mixed co-cktail of delusion, tyranny, gibberish and boredom.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. icharliem

    what do you expect from a "guy" (pope or not) who wears red Prada shoes?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:09 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.