"St. Peter's Basilica Early Morning" by Andreas Tille / CC BY-SA 4.0

Vatican Tells Bishops to Report Sex Abuse to Police (but Doesn’t Require It)

Jul 17, 2020

By Elisabetta Povoledo

The Vatican has told bishops around the world to report cases of clerical sex abuse to civil authorities even where local laws don’t require it — a step that abuse victims and their advocates have demanded over the decades in which the scandal has roiled the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican also urged bishops to investigate even abuse claims that seem to be “doubtful,” or are made anonymously, rather than dismissing them outright.

But the new instructions are not binding and were not enshrined in the church’s canon law, prompting criticism that the Vatican still gives bishops too much leeway in judging the conduct of their priests. The instructions were instead part of a new handbook intended to guide bishops and religious superiors who may have little experience handling abuse cases.

“What is important to remember today is that it is still allowable under canon law for a bishop to not report a priest who is raping a child; it is still allowed for thousands of the world’s bishops,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a victims advocacy and research group, said in a telephone interview.

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