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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. Armin

    I guess there many non catholic that do not know and many catholics that should know. Please. The pope does not have disciplinary prerrogatives over roles that stricly belong to the Bishops. It is up these to impose mandates in their own dioceses.
    The Pope can only indicate guidelines.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  2. kaysandee

    You people are completely seduced yourselves. No clue about history or the future. Your comments are laughable. Such ignorance is only proof that God has rejected the vileness of this culture! So keep flapping your stupidity, your superior knowledge (or rather lack thereof), your arrogance and keep believing the lies. You are those who exalt yourself before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted before men is an abomination in the sight of God.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Aezel

      Oh okay so tell me all about how you know the future. This will be good for a laugh.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  3. Ricardo

    Before blasting the Catholic Church, the Pope, et al., read the article well (don't stop at the headline). The church is specifically instructing bishops to report these crimes! CNN, SHAME ON YOU FOR DISTROTING THE NEWS. Saying that the Catholic Church is doing something good does not sell news. Outrage sells news. Read this story on other news outlets. SHAME ON CNN.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  4. Pat

    When Jesus said 'Spoil the little children, come onto me,' something tells me this is not what he meant......

    May 16, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  5. David A. Crosby

    About time we just outlawed christianity. Jesus is dead after all. Nothing good has ever come from these prople. Except 1700 years of torture, slavery and oppression. Ban the Church.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  6. BB

    When it comes to religion everyone is going to disagree. That's human nature. But people should research what they believe or is told by the church. Its been proven the bible was written years after the death of christ. No one's memory can be that great where they can recall word for word the teachings of one man! Those stories in the bible are older than christ himself. We say Christmas was when he was born and that's been proven WRONG! The original bible had over 100 different gospels and now we have a few. There are other gospels that the catholic church feels we shouldn't know about or bother with. I say let us see it all. Don't hold a meeting and decide for us what we will and will not believe. Let us decide for ourselves. I was raise Baptist and once I was old enough to question what I was being taught I looked for the answers and nothing and I mean NOTHING I found proves Jesus even walked this earth or that the events in the bible are true. I can tell you this though, another commandment should be added to those 10 God supposedly gave to Moses (which if happened today we would lock the poor guy in the nut house for hearing voices) they should make number 11 read: Keep Thy Religion to Thyself!

    May 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  7. GSA

    @Ed – I don't think the problem is that this problem exists only in the Church but that the Church has provided a perfect place for this condition to thrive.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Ed

      I have to agree that the church has failed miserably to deal with this problem. However statiscally speaking pedophilia is far less common in the catholic church then in the general population of the world or in the general populationand of most nations like the USA, China, england...etc for instance. In other worlds comparatively there are fewer pedo priests then pedo teachers, doctors, lawyers....etc per capita. Based on that it would seem it harder to be a pedo in the catholic church then out of it. Although there may be other reasons then difficulty. Therefore I don't think the problem is the church has created the perfect place for the condition to thrive, just another place for it to happen.

      Please do not take any of this a me saying its ok for it to happen in the church or that the church does not need to do much more to stop it. Priest that commit an act of pedophilia are worse then a member of the general public that does it. Because they are preists, they are trusted and they are leaders of the faithful and therfore need to hold themsleves and be held to a higher standard by the followers and their leaders.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Julian

      To Ed: 'However statiscally speaking pedophilia is far less common in the catholic church then in the general population of the world', how can you say that Buddy, they cover it up. That's the gist of the problem.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ed

      @Julian, The est-im-ate according to my crim-inal pschy class from college is approx 5-8% of the worlds pop-ul-ation are pedos. Less than . .3% of catholic priest have been ac-c-us-ed. As-suming that number only 1 tenth of the actual cases that still would put the number of priest commiting ped-op-hilia at leass then 1%. Even if you multiply the number by 150 times it would still be less then the 5-8% general pop-ul-ation. We also know not all the pedos in the world get reported so based on these numbers there is less in the church then out of it.

      Again none of this ex-cu-ses the fact that it happens in the church. No number is small enough the only small enough number of priest or anyone else com-mi-tting ped-op-hilia is 0 any more than that is to many. This also does not exc-use the way the church dealt with the problem. It does seem to indi-cate the problem is not the church or the celibacy rules but instead the si-ck bas-ta-rds that commit the act. The real fault of the church is how the hid it instead of defrocking the priest and turning them over to the law to be pun-is-hed. But if the numbers are correct then st-atis-cally there is more outside the church then in. I have no reason to believe the stat-ics given to me by the department shrink of the local police department are incorrect. By the way he did not give me the stat-istic on the church just general population, the stat-is-tic on the church I found on the internet

      sorry if its a double post moderated flagged it

      May 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  8. Aezel

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSUVOF1IpMw&w=640&h=390]

    Hopefully that worked this time. Again, saw that in March, I'm not the make of this video but it is hilarious.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Ed

      2 things on your video first most og them people mentioned weren't catholic yet most group seem to think only catholic priest do this and one of the preist had already been defrocked, so the only reason to mention he was a priest since the church kicked him out was to crab attention. That headline would be like a headline that read star implicated in drug bust, then when you read the stars friend had pot and was talking to the star on the phone when caught.

      But I have a quesion for you. How often when a atesst commit a crime any crime do you see a headline read atheist commit crime? If you go by judt headlines athiest mudst never commit any crimes. Or far more likely it just won't get the attention the news paper wants to write a headline. Atheist commits crime.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Aezel

      Firstly, as I said, I didn't make this video, although I have to say I don't really disagree with anything in it.

      As you point out, everyone blames Catholics while other people in the video are NOT Catholic. Which is EXACTLY my point. It isn't just Catholicism, Christianity in general is massively hypocritical.

      As you also address, how many times does an atheist commit crimes and it isn't pointed out? Well, there are two parts to that answer. First of all, atheists don't claim to have ultimate moral authority over other people from a magical man in the sky, while Christians do. That is what makes it so hypocritical. We are all human, and humans will do bad things, it is when you claim that you are morally better because of your made-up religion that really irks people.

      The second part of that is, not many atheists commit crime. Believe it or not research has already been done on this. While atheists comprise 15-20% of the U.S. population, they make up only .2% of the prison population. Meanwhile, the major Christian sects are all OVER represented in the prison populations. So the reason you don't see headlines about atheists committing a crime is it doesn't even happen very often in the first place.

      May 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Ed

      Most christians don't think they are more moral than atheist just that we have faith. Thats a misconseption because people in general tend to ignore the people who are moderate and only hear the people making the must noise. This is the case with your assumption that all christians think they are more moral than atheist. It s the loud minority that has lead you to this belief not the majority. When we of the majority try to speak up we are often shouted down by both the loud minority and the atheist. The atheist by saying condecending crap like "atheists don't claim to have ultimate moral authority over other people from a magical man in the sky, while Christians do." Basically you just turned God into David Copperfield thanks. Also Atheist on this blog spend a great deal of time telling everyone how much more moral than everyone else they are. You want proof read your own commits.

      Finally the reason you don't see headline like an atheist commited a crime is because it would get attention not because they don't. But a headline priest commited a crime well that sells newspapers.
      You also have to understand that saying your are christian and acting christian are not the same thing. A lot of people claim faith in God when it suits them and not when it doesn't. They then commit crimes or some other immoral act and atheist jump up and say see the christians, jews, muslims, buddist, hindus....etc are all hipocrits. When the reality of the situation is we are human and we as a group and as individuals make mistakes. Thats not a excuse just a fact. But Atheist claim to have a open mind but as a group seem to be unable to seperate on person form another. The blame the whole group for what each person does wrong. The hold the entire group responsable for what a few do.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  9. Julian

    I think the parents should take a little blame for this....... manipulating their young children's brains into believeing there is a god, and holy men are messengers of this god. And yes, this 'god' is to be feared..... and there is a hell. You be a good litlle girl/ boy or you know what will happen. I guess this is what goes through the young childs mind when they are being abused. Terrified..... petrified what this supernatural being may do to them if they tell.... As re-inforced by the abuser, the messenger of this 'god'. It's almost like its been geared up for this very purpose, and rely on the gullible to serve up the little 'uns. There's more than the clergy to blame me thinks. And I recognise that most don't abuse, but lots cover it up.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Jesusfreaker

      Parents who drop their children off at Catholic schools or churches knowing what they know about the churches stand on this issue, really have no regard for their children what so ever. I agree that children's minds should not be polluted with religion until they are mature enough to make that choice on their own. Religion poisons everything.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Robert Johnson

      An abuser could not even wish for a better environment in which to commit his depravities. The Church built it for him, then shields him from accountability for his acts. You're right Julian; it looks to be custom made for the purpose.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Julian

      It's a bit like Santa Claus, only if you p~ss him off you don't get presents. Its quite a sinister version without doubt.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Robert Johnson

    How hard can it be to produce an effective and mandatory policy? The Church is quick to excommunicate for far lesser "sins". The Church obviously wishes to continue exercising absolute power over its members, while having no accountability for its actions. But I suppose it makes sense, since their precious God has no morals either.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  11. Nemo

    In the (paraphrased) words of the game:
    'Go Directly To Hell.
    Do Not Pass GO!
    Do Not Collect $200.'

    May 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  12. ChurchMAFIA

    i'm from Poland , very catholic place . i was catholic till right after Confirmation . i done all that for my parents . ..
    religions what a brainwash .. and waist of time .. .. and all that pedophilia .. i'm glad that i am FREE .

    ooo and thanks to church for all destroyed Art and erased periods of History since Jesus .... your old stories getting older
    HA 🙂

    May 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Aezel

    It isn't just catholics. I had to dig a bit to find this, but I remember seeing it back in March and I LOL'ed pretty hard.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSUVOF1IpMw&w=425&h=349]

    May 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  14. Carl LaFong

    I saw a terrific bumper sticker recently: "Jesus, save me from your followers."

    May 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      I saw one that said "let go of my ears, I know what i'm doing."

      May 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  15. D

    So wait...the Catholic Church STILL is not cooperating???????????

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?????????????????

    May 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • John C

      Yours is the perfect example of how ignorance takes root.

      May 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, yes they pretending to try hard. Let's give credit where credit is due.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • nujw

      Pretending to deal with the criminal conduct of priests is progress? Why is that deemed progress? Gregory is doing what every Pope historically has done: He provides only lip service to the problem. Actions speak. The papacy has gotten to the point where its words are worse than meaningless. They serve to mock any scintilla of credibility that remains within the Catholic hiearchy.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  16. Bernard

    If it's not immediately reporting legitimate incidents then we don't care. This is just the church coddling pedophilic priests slightly less.

    This is not renaissance Europe, the church has no "right" of discretion it is not a government agency. This is why my family ended up leaving the church: among other ways its just mentally unsafe for any child. That and the man who is now pope back in his arch-bishop days personally declared that the union of my parents would not be a marriage in the eyes of god because of a previous marriage of my mother (which was annulled, but big suppressive a member of the Vatican breaking Vatican law) so I could no more personally respect being in a catholic church anymore than a voodoo ceremony.

    Catholicism "saved" Christianity once. Then it became the worst thing that could have ever happened to it for a series of about 1.5 millennia and counting.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  17. beth

    Too little, too late. Anyone Catholic unfortunately is supporting child abuse rs by giving $ to this organization. The current pope himself covered up se x crimes against children. If I were Catholic I would feel torn, I'm sure, but I really think the right thing to do is to quit that church and force them to be finished. They are corrupt and have covered up crimes that have ruined not just the children who were victims but the many in contact with these children. People are se xual beings. To deny this causes problems. Se xuality is going to come out one way or another. And some who know they are going to do this to children were drawn to this lifestyle. If the church allowed marriage it would help but they must do a huge housecleaning top down for this to change so I say people with conscious who are opposed to these terrible, wide-spread wrongs of the church from the administration from the very top down should quit.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Ed

      @Beth, The requirment to celibacy did not cause this problem. Approx. 5-8% of the male popultaion world wide are pedophiles. When not victimizing children the are either heterose-xual in every day life or ase-xual. They often have kids of their own that the also abuse, sometimes with the mothers knowledge. If the church allowed the preists to marry those that are pedophiles would still be pedophiles. It just won't stop that. I'm not saying it would nt be resonable to change that rule. I'm just saying it won't fix this problem.

      Only the church making sure the victims know they came come to the church and go to the police can fix it. Only the church making sure all preists know the will not be protected but infact defrocked, excommunicated then turned over to the law for criminal punishment can help. Even this can not stop all of it becasue if t could pedophilia would not exist outside f the church but it does. These steps would just make priest that are pedophilies think hard becasue they will not get any help form the church just the opposite.

      May 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  18. Javier

    Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi said it well: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

    May 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • NavyDiver

      Not one "Christian" I know of or ever read about followed their Christ. Its funny that other religions such as Muslims speak highly of Christ and his good natured ways but look at all of his followers differently because they follow the agendas of their preists and not of Christ. I was born and raised christian but I had to walk away from that religion because of all the false and misquoted speakings of the bible. You cant call your Country a civil nation if we are still using war as a resolution. For Christ to go through life without any personal wealth goes to show that Christians dont follow the right path. Too many rich christians out there and I dont think that "preists" like Benny Hinn should be flying around the world in their own 747 thats bigger then the President of the U.S. I follow God but I wont follow Christians.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      NavyDiver,
      Benny Hinn is not a priest and is not Catholic.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  19. RobinMO

    When will the Catholic church oppose this abomination with the same vigor with which they attempt to force women to continue unwanted pregnancies against their will?

    May 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Stevie7

      So much for priorities. I guess life is more important when it's in the womb.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  20. Anon

    This is what I think.

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2234#comic

    May 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Alverant

      This.

      May 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
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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.