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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.

Abuse crisis fuels debate over John Paul II’s legacy

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. Miguel

    Just outlaw priest! They preaches, yet don't protect children from fellow pries abuse What a joke!

    May 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  2. i cant belive is not butter

    We should line them up and stone the crapppp out of them....its sick...how can any one do such thing to a child.....

    May 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  3. jesuscaresme

    "Don't tell anyone about what goes on under the sheets, little boy. You want to go to heaven don't you?" Sick perverts need to go to Hell via the death penalty.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  4. AnotherJohn

    It's a shame that people don't realize that religion is made up by old dusty men looking to take advantage of the ignorant and naive. The reason that Priests can't marry was written into church law because their families would have a right to have an inheritance leaving the church in the cold. Men with no women are like men in prison, you get off any way you can, and they do.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Nah

      another: "It's a shame that people don't realize that religion is made up by old dusty men looking to take advantage of the ignorant and naive."

      Yeah, religion is a worldwide conspiracy reaching back to the beginning of time. There's really a group of men sitting around plotting all the evil in the world, taking your money, laughing at how stupid you are.

      I'm guessing you're 12, or just retarded?

      May 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  5. cornholio

    "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...","That's okay, just say ten Hail Mary's, and it's all good!"

    May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  6. Andi

    So nothing really changed. Terrific. Why are they behaving as though they accomplished anything at all? These crimes will continue to happen, & bishops will continue to cover it up. How very noble.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  7. ConcernedPerson

    Wow, look at that silly man in the pic, with that goofy white hat and demonic smile. I wouldnt let that man near me or my children. Any person that thinks god's will speaks through them is SICK, DELUSIONAL, DANGEROUS. I dont care how much money and power you have, YOU ARE SICK MR. POPIEDOPIE! The wealth and power that you control like some exNazi boss – oops, you were a Nazi – only makes you extremely DANGEROUS!

    Grow up catholics, your board of directors is just a good ole boy club of celibate, sick, delusional men!

    May 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Andi

      Issues. You have them.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. Not All Docs Play Golf

    As an ex-Catholic, I cannot adhere to a doctrine where a guy in a pointed hat rides around in a bullet-proof rickshaw proclaiming that people dying of AIDS and starvation in 3rd world countries should not use condoms. It is so, so backward, and so not Christ-like. Benedict is pulling the church even further backward. Keep your statues showing Mary to be a white Eurpean. I don't buy any of it anymore...had years of indoctrination with Catholic myths in grade school and high school.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  9. fernace

    Sending priests accused of raping children to places where they have no contact with the puplic is a great idea! I have the perfect place: Prison!!

    May 16, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Frogist

      Comment of the day!

      May 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @fernace

      I would 2nd @Frogist's opinion, and add..."accused and (convicted)" by a court of law.

      Peace...

      May 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  10. i cant belive is not butter

    Is it just me ,or is every one not abele to see all the coments?it says 132 coments but can only read a few

    May 16, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Johnny B

      Hit "next" or "previous" at bottom...

      May 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  11. Katie

    More religious bull-crud. Apparently there are so many child molesters in the clergy that they don't want to report incidences to the authorities because there wouldn't be of them left... Pathetic.. Yet another check against religion affiliation...

    May 16, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  12. cubvespa

    Just remember one thing, these criminals are the ones that the vatican have picked to lead your churches. Who will be accountable for these crimes at the end of the day?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  13. InFormed99

    If the Catholic (or any) church was truly the messengers of god, why does god allow child molesters into their ranks? I've head all the 'devil made me do it' excuses used by the JW's (Jehovah's Witnesses) , but if there was one insti tution that should be exempt from that then wouldn't it be a church?

    May 16, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Tim in Michigan

      Churches are a place for people to gather to worship God. God does not stop all evil and sin in the world. He gave man free will and that free will can lead to evil. How are we to know what is good if there is no presence of evil? The world if full of many things that have opposites. If leading a good life was meant to be easy, everyone would be able to do it without any effort or willpower.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  14. BB

    Some of you so blindly follow the catholic church its sad. Seems to me everyone likes to forget that for hundreds of years that "church" has been corrupted and has abused its power. Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and other clergy have been violating "God's Law" for so many years that these molesters are not a surprise to me. I believe that whole "church" should be dismantled. Its evil. Can any of you so called "believers" tell me where there is proof that what the Bible teaches is true? Where is proof that Jesus walked this earth? The Bible? Please!! History has shown that book was written hundreds of years after he died. Remember... Faith is belief without proof.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Ryan in Michigan

      You are so far off base it would be laughable, if it wasn't so pathetic. History shows that the Bible was written within less than thirty years from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It wasn't translated into English for hundreds of years, but it was still there, in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. There is much historical evidence for events that happened in the Bible as well, such as the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of Jericho, and others. Try reading "Case for Christ" and "Case for Faith" for your proof.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Tim in Michigan

      You are correct. Faith is belief without proof. That is faith is. I am proud to have it. I am also proud to call myself Catholic and proud in my beliefs. Now, I am not saying that priests who have committed these crimes shouldn't be punished. Those that have done those things need to pay for and atone for their sin. The whole should not be judged based on the actions of the few.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      Ryan..you said your self..god wrote the book and man,yes man rewrote the book....so remeber that there's a lot of evil and back than religion killed if you got in their way...so sence the bible was rewritennnn...you think the bible is 100% original to the words that god wrote?...........

      May 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Tim in Michigan

      Correction. That is what faith is.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Natalie

      @Ryan, Actually, from the research I've done, most of the new testament wasn't written down until at LEAST 60 years after the death of Jesus, and at that there were many versions floating around the ancient world both in writing and by word of mouth. The Bible, such as we know it today, didn't exist for a long, long time after, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 300AD.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Nah

      bb: "what the Bible teaches is true? Where is proof that Jesus walked this earth? The Bible? Please!! History has shown that book was written hundreds of years after he died. Remember... Faith is belief without proof."

      It's amazing that people will ask a question, refuse to look for the answer, and then believe that the existence of the question itself is proof that something (e.g., the Bible) isn't true.

      There are many archaeological and historical verifications for many of the events in the Bible. That doesn't make the events divine, but they did happen.

      You should really learn about a subject before forming beliefs about it.

      But, then again, you're probably a troll.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      There is much historical evidence for events that happened in the Bible as well –
      such as the Flood – er, no there isnt, not even close.
      the parting of the Red Sea – really? where can I find that then?
      the collapse of Jericho – that I will give you, there is certainly signs of a huge battle and devastation there but that hardly proves a blasting of horns brought down walls.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Frogist

      Thanks for asking the questions I had, Cedar Rapids. And Tim, it's hard to not judge the whole organisation when it seems it was the whole organisation that covered up the abuses.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  15. keeth in cali

    These people aren't Christian. Heck, they aren't even human. The Catholic Church only cares about the Catholic Church, not the welfare of its flock and most certainly not the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's a sham.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  16. genome

    30 years too late.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  17. Anonymous

    religion is hilarious...

    May 16, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Bond

      Depends on the rules and guidelines. Not all religions were altered. When you start to deviate from your natural needs and desires then one day's you'll use your desires in the wrong way because human body can only take so much.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  18. Lizzard

    I think it's sick for all of you who agree to sweeping any kind of abuse under the rug. Any possible case should be dealt with not pushed aside as if it never happened. What are you trying to teach your kids, because it sure isn't faith!

    May 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      I gree with that statement.....the pope should be put on trile for hideing and sweeping this under the rug......

      May 16, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  19. Lisa

    They fail to see the urgency of this issue, don't they? Baffling how they can be so cold and heartless toward a violent crime that is far from victimless.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • iRex

      I don't think its a matter of failing to see urgency, as much as the Church is a large ship an it tends to move slowly on any matter.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Stevie7

      How hard would it be to mandate reporting? And I'm sure the notion of the church taking a long time to do anything isn't very helpful to the victims

      May 16, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  20. Joe

    Heck. Our own parents kept such things secret and would punish their child for telling them a priest, nun, or lay teacher assaulted them. Priests, bishops, and nuns were treated as if they were Saints themselves as we awere all the sinners. The Catholic Church did not lose a lot of the Baby Boomer generation for no reason at all. A lot are just starting to find their way back, but very cautious, when you feel like you are in with a den of thieves and criminals and child abusers. The mistakes made was it may or may not have been brought to the attention of the clergy, but it definitely was covered up by the church and parents from the law.

    I think the church should start up a collection for all those that were abused.

    Blessed are the children of God who were abused by those who hide behind the cloth, and damned be those sinners for they shall be dealt with by God himself. Those that cover it up shall also have to seek forgiveness and pay repentance for their crime is just as bad.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      well said joe

      May 16, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Farmers Daughter

      I left the Catholic Church years ago. My siblings are still active Catholics who refuse to see the truth about the church. How do you get an 75, 78 & 80 year old to see the truth when they have grown up in the mind twisting all their life?

      The Pope is taking NO stand on this. He supposedly is the head of the church but is not setting the standard? Does he not represent the Lord himself??? Someday the Catholic church will fall and fall hard. I only wish my family could see it before that happens. I am truly grieved for all the innocent victiims of this horrible abuse.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:12 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.