Vatican Says Bishops Not Obligated to Report Sex Abuse to Police

Pope Francis prays as he leads a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12, 2015.
Pope Francis prays as he leads a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12, 2015. | REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi

Catholic Bishops have no legal obligation to report sex abuse allegations to law enforcement, a recent Vatican document states.

Monsignor Tony Anatrella, who belongs to the Church's Pontifical Council for the Family, stated in a Vatican document — as well as during a training session for newly-ordained bishops — that Church leaders have no legal obligation to report sex abuse allegations to local authorities.

The Catholic news agency Crux Now first reported on comments made by Anatrella during the annual training session held for bishops in Paris, France, last fall, where the mosignor focused on a variety of issues, including "sanctifying, teaching and governing," as well handling sex abuse claims.

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"Anatrella argued that bishops have no duty to report allegations to the police, which he says is up to victims and their families. It's a legalistic take on a critical issue, one which has brought only trouble for the Church and its leaders. Why, one wonders, was it part of a training session?" Crux News questioned.

The Guardian followed up on the report, citing a recent Vatican document, released last week, that says the bishops' only responsibility is to deal with the charges at an internal level.

"According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds," the document, written by Anatrella and released by the Vatican earlier this month, reads.

News of the Church's guidelines for reporting abuse have received widespread criticism from advocacy groups, especially after Pope Francis repeatedly voiced his commitment to achieving justice for victims of the Church's decades-long molestation scandal, as reported by The Christian Post here, here and here.

Barbara Dorris, the outreach director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday that the guidelines are not surprising.

"In one sense, this isn't surprising. As has pointed out, 'zero tolerance,' while often uttered by Catholic officials, isn't even the official policy of the global Church," Dorris said, adding "But it's infuriating — and dangerous — that so many believe the myth that bishops are changing how they deal with abuse and that so little attention is paid when evidence to the contrary — like this disclosure by [Crux News] — emerges."

Wayne Chamley, of the Australia-based Broken Rites activist group, told the Sydney Morning Herald that these guidelines protect bishops from having any obligation to report abuse.

"This basically instructs the bishop that they don't have to do anything; it's up to the families or the victims to go to the police," he said. "This is unfathomable and yet it does not surprise me."

Francis denounced the Church's sex abuse scandal on a recent visit to the United States, during which he met privately with victims and vowed publically that "all responsible will be held accountable."

While speaking at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia last September, Francis said "God weeps" for the grave offenses committed against children at the hands of the Church.

 "I commit to the careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected," the pope added.

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