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. Pastor Carlton Evans

    Satan's greatest two weapons: spirtual ignorance and religion!!!

    May 16, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Colin

      The myth of satan is every bit as silly as the myth of there being a god. All Dark Ages nonsense.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • paxman2

      @Colin, Please give me your explanation of this 18 minute old news report from 1987. http://vimeo.com/21856704 It shows unbiased opinions both for and against Medjugorje. I posted before a link to vimeo video 10286499 and someone said there's no sound (which is true) so maybe there was an audible signal so the children would synchronize their looking up. Well, there's a crowd of hundreds of people all around them, don't you think they would have heard the signal.

      Jesus loves you even if you don't believe in Him. In Medjugorje there's been a lot of evidence that Jesus exist and is who He said He was. What is your theory to explain what’s going on for the past 30 years in Medjugore? Starting in June of 1981 6 kids, ages 10 to 15 dropping to their knees at the same time, focusing on the same spot (even though they have side –blinders on), bright flashing lights and hot skin probes not showing up on their EEGs, all raising their heads simultaneously when she leaves. Being arrested by the communist police and threatened with jail and torture and refusing to change their testimony. And now 30 years later, still going to church daily, praying many hours every day, all sticking to their ‘story’ while raising families. Six pathological liars? I guess the proof will be if they die without the signs happening that they say will happen in their lifetimes. Search vimeo for Mirjana or Medjugorje. Look how young Jakov is in this 1984 video, how they all raise their eyes at the same time. They've done this in front of crowds of hundreds of people. Search u-tube videos of Mirjana. Please reply with your explanation. She says in one of her videos that Our Blessed Mother doesn't refer to atheist as non-believers but as ‘those who do not yet know the love of God’, so at least there’s hope in the way she puts it, sounds like you'll eventually come around. But she also says you'll regret waiting until the great sign, don't let your hearts become too hardened. Keep an open mind and look into it. Also, how do you explain similarities and out of body experiences in people who have had NDEs? I almost drowned as a teenager and I know what I experienced wasn't just my brain failing from lack of oxygen. I’ll keep praying for you.

      May 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Colin

      @Pazman2. I explain Medjugorje the same way I explain Guadaloupe, Fátima, Lourdes and all other sites of supposed miraculous events. Human credulity and an overwhelimg desire in the faithful to believe. I do not seriously think the Virgin Mary or any other Catholic sky-being periodically appears to young Catholics.

      Nor do I believe NDEs are anything. If and when either Marian or other apparitions or NDEs pass scientific wscrutiny, I will give them credibility. Until then, my knowledge of the frailties of the human mind is more than sufficient.

      May 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Colin: Wouldn't it be great to get the Mythbusters on some of these "miracles"? Just a thought.

      May 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  2. Aaron

    Per the article, they're told to follow local reporting laws on crime, so what's the issue with reporting? The naysayers are not going to be happy unless the Vatican sets up a hit squad that executes anyone accused, no trial, evidence, or actual abuse required.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Colin

      I tend to agree (and I am an atheist who despises the nonsense of the RCC). I think it got a raw deal in the USA over the $$ it paid and generally over the perceived numbers involved. Only a very small percentage were involved.

      However, I am elated that it has caused people to question the Catholic dogma they would otherwise have swallowed uncritically.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  3. Guest

    This pope business is a hoax. There is no need for any agent between the creator and His creations. The cross is also fake and can't save anyone.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  4. Karyn

    They have taken GOD & Human Compassion & DECENCY out if their PATHETIC equation.... UNIMAGINABLE. :0(

    May 16, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. Pastor Carlton Evams

    Get out of religion and come into the Kindom of God!!! God never created any religion because He is a God of relationship!!!
    One thing to know is the Kingdom of God does have order that is maintained and administrated by His sent Five-Fold Apostolic leadership.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  6. dai

    nice to see the catholic church yet again saying that their 'moral high ground' is exactly what local laws permit them to get away with, no more. their 'guidelines' seem to say "obey the law", which the clergy already have to do, along with the rest of us. what great moral leadership! what ownership of their sordid past! what humility! what contrition!


    May 16, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  7. LouAz

    Every catholics SILENCE is their CONSENT. There will be page after page of apologists and "others are guilty too" diversions here and there and it will just continue on and on. The catholisc and their chief pedophile poop must believe it is some how ok with their god for grown men (in dresses for cryin' out loud) to bugger their little boys as they keep offering up their own children. A pox on all of them !

    May 16, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  8. Reality

    Just how many of these guidelines are going to be published? They will do no good because it is the flawed history and theology of Christianity that are the root causes of the problems.

    For example:

    The Resurrection Con/Disease/Flaw:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

    o p.4
    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    o p.168. by Ted Peters:
    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

    o So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  9. Carole

    The Catholic church now have been running ads on TV about getting back to the church. That is because they are losing so many people because they have allowed the molesting of these kids to continue and they keep covering it up. People are getting disgusted with this and are leaving the church. Now the Pope says not to report to police. What does that say? It says to continue abusing kids but just be careful you don't get caught. Geez..when is this going to stop.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Stevie7

      For the Catholics out there – just realize that this is what your weekly donations go to. Paying hush money to victims and for probably futile commercials to convince those disgusted by the actions of the church leadership to pay for that hush money. The church would probably be better off focusing on stopping the bleeding than trying to bring back people that aren't likely to return anyway

      May 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Disciple

      You obviously didn't even read the article. Did you? "Local laws on reporting suspected crimes to the authorities "should always be followed," the guidelines say."

      May 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Stevie7

      And what DOESN'T it say (but should) – report these crimes to authorities no matter what. Do you really only support the position that these criminals should only be exposed and brought to justice if laws for such reporting exist? Where's the moral obligation for justice.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  10. Mark Kram

    "I am glad the pope did this. The catholic church is dying and arrogant moves like this help it die. The pope is helping kill this faith! Thank you- you Nazi pervert."

    All religions are flawed, not just the Catholic one. I can't stand people like you that will post stuff like that all day, but don't have the balls to be critical of the actions of the Islamics or Jews.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Colin

      Agreed that they are all as baseless and silly as each other (and Islam is currently more violent). I gues the RC is the low hanging fruit becuase of the scandal.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Reality

      "Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: When Priests And Rabbis Commit Se-xual Abuse

      Mar 29, 2010 ......
      “The words used by Pope Benedict and others in responding to the Church's ever-deepening se-xual abuse crises reflect a sickness that is not unique to the Catholic community. In fact, that sickness creeps into all religious communities of which I know, and leaves a trail of victims in its wake every time. I refer to the way in which religious leaders and the communities which they lead wear the mantle of victimhood to cover their naked moral failings."


      "A jury in Oregon ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a former Scout who suffered s-exual abuse as a child at the hands of his troop leader — the largest such award levied against the organization, reports The Oregonian.

      Attorneys for 38-year-old Kerry Lewis said the verdict exposed the organization’s “dark history with pedophiles and its unwillingness to come to terms with the problem.” They waved “perversion files“ around the courtroom – secret files kept by the Scouts doc-umenting claims of se-xual abuse by troop leaders and volunteers over a 70 year-period."

      From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses_and_child_s-ex_abuse
      “As with other religious organizations, Jehovah's Witnesses have been obliged in recent years to develop child protection policies to deal with cases of child abuse in their congregations. Details of the policy have been published in Jehovah's Witnesses' publications and press releases issued by their Office of Public Information.[1][2] Some details are found only in letters to elders which, while solely for internal use, have been made available on the Internet.”

      From: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1855948_1861760_1862212,00.html#ixzz0jg0lEyZj

      “Facing calls to curb child se-x abuse within its churches, in June the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest U.S. religious body after the Catholic Church — urged local hiring committees to conduct federal background checks but rejected a proposal to create a central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors. The SBC decided against such a database in part because its principle of local autonomy means it cannot compel individual churches to report any information. And while the headlines regarding churches and pedophilia remain largely focused on Catholic parishes, the lack of hierarchical structure and systematized record-keeping in most Protestant churches makes it harder not only for church leaders to impose standards, but for interested parties to track allegations of abuse. "


      "Yet another prominent Orthodox rabbi has been charged with se-xual abuse. This time it is Rabbi Mordechai Elon, one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of the Israeli Orthodox movement and former rosh yeshiva at the flagship Yeshivat HaRav, where last year a Palestinian mounted an assault which left several students dead. The result was that students of the yeshiva and other far right Jews went on a rampage and tried to burn down the home of the family of the perpetrator of the attack. Elon’s brother is Benny, a former MK for a far-right pro-settler party.

      At one time the rabbi was so renowned he’d hoped to be named chief rabbi. Alas, that hope is all but dashed as he was charged several years ago with abusing boys at his yeshiva:

      Takana, a rabbinic forum established in 2003 to clamp down on s-exual misconduct by Orthodox educators, went public February 15 with allegations that Mordechai “Moti” Elon had taken advantage of his influence over male students and performed “acts at odds with sacred and moral values.”

      The panel later said that two people, whose complaints alleged acts from about 25 years ago, had been under 18 at the time. More recent alleged acts involved students of Elon who were 18 or older. Since its initial disclosure, the panel reports having received one more complaint of an alleged underage encounter…

      What is unusual about this case is that a splinter group of the Orthodox community is taking the position that the entire prosecution is an attempt to destroy rabbinic authority and the Orthodox movement. It calls for refusal to cooperate with state authorities (or to deal with the charge through a beyt din)."

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      May 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  11. Colin

    I am elated that this global scandal has caused so many Catholics to question their beliefs. It is not exactly a logical step, in that the $exual proclivities of priests has little to do with the broader issue of the truth of Catholic beliefs, but however you get there......

    May 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  12. Nurse Lisa

    Abusing children is a crime first, a spiritual matter second. Failure to report known crimes is conspiracy to conceal and indefensible – esp. in the wake of their hollow apologies and expensive legal wrangling to avoid civil and criminal penalties. The truth shall set you free. Their lies, even of omission, are unforgivable by man's laws – hopefully their repentance in private convinces God.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Colin

      So, Nurse Lisa, god, using his magic telepathic powers, reads their minds while they "repent in private" does he?

      May 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  13. shoos

    What it tells you is that you must be responsible for your child and go directly to the police then church. If they want reactionary procedures then give them cause to react.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  14. Jenny

    I am glad the pope did this. The catholic church is dying and arrogant moves like this help it die. The pope is helping kill this faith! Thank you- you Nazi pervert.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  15. john316

    When you see photos like the one for this article....it reminds me of some science fiction film from another planet or dimension....people taking photos of a man in expensive robes...high above the crowd like some godlike being....it is absolutely amazing....but then....so is celebrity apprentice......I could go on...but you get my point.......

    May 16, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  16. Bond

    Punishment should be the same for everybody for this crime unless the book tells you that not all men were created equally.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  17. kc

    If teachers need to report suspected child abuse but the bishops do not? They will have "guidelines", no as far as I am concerned they are breaking the law themselves by their silence and maybe the Catholic church would not be in this continued turmoil.

    If I had school age children I would not allow them to be around any priest or nun knowing that if something happened the Bishop will not act.

    I loved the tradition of the Catholic religion but have changed churches that make sure their children stay safe.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. doctore0

    Sorry... but the catholic church must go.. cancer on humanity it is, like all organized religions

    May 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  19. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    And most priests are gay.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Natalie

      Really? Where do you get your information?

      I admittedly have a circle of friends that skews heavily gay, and yet of the 20 or so Catholic priests I've known in my life only one of them was gay.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Nah

      natalie: "Really? Where do you get your information?"

      Trolls don't need facts or information 🙂

      May 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      And the truth shalll set you free natalie....so you hang out with these priest? No wonder you are defending these criminal acts...are you a perv / molester your self???......

      May 16, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  20. Natalie

    When you attempt to subvert the very normal human se-x drive and deny someone the pleasures of a normal se-xual outlet, you will, inevitably, pervert the healthy expression of se-xuality that is a part of being human. Celibacy is not for everyone, and unless one of the very few ase-xual beings, an even smaller minority than hom-ose-xual beings, then celibacy is only meant to be a short term endeavor, a means of self discipline or an exercise in focusing the energy into spiritual endeavors. It isn't meant to be a long term way of life.

    Is it any wonder then, that in an organization that denies it's members a healthy se-xual outlet, so many turn to unhealthy, and in the case of acts with under-aged victims criminal, means of release?

    May 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Reality

      Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy".

      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

      Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law, B16?) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      May 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      Such horse shtttt natalie!....so its ok for them to molest children cause they are denied by their curch they chose to be a part offfff? They choseeeee to be priest.....no one put a gun to their face!.....and the leader of the curch should not sweep this crime under the ruggggg.they are as guilty as the man who did it....

      May 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Frogist

      @Natalie: I think there is some truth in what you say. A repressed se-xuality will out and probably not in the healthiest of ways. I would love to see scientific studies about this though.
      Also @butter: Recognizing the cause for something is not condoning it. BTW you should probably get that stutter checked out. 😉

      May 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
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About this blog

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.