All Catholic priests and nuns will be required to report abuse and cover-ups by superiors
'Pope Francis has issued a groundbreaking law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities, in a fresh effort to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for failing to protect their flocks.
The new edict provides whistleblower protections for anyone making a report and requires all dioceses to have a system in place to receive the claims confidentially. It outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.
It is the latest attempt by Francis to respond to the global sexual abuse and cover-up scandal that has devastated the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy and his own papacy. It also provides a legal framework for US bishops to use as they prepare to adopt accountability measures next month in response to the scandal there.
“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people,” said Charles Scicluna, an archbishop who is the Vatican’s longtime prosecutor for sex crimes. “They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported.”
The law makes the world’s 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 religious sisters mandated reporters. That means they are required to inform church authorities when they learn or have “well-founded motives to believe” a cleric or sister has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of child pornography, or that a superior has covered up any of those crimes.
The law does not require them to report to police, as victims have demanded. The Vatican has long argued that different legal systems in different countries make a universal reporting law impossible, and that imposing one could endanger the church in places where Catholics are a persecuted minority. But the procedures do for the first time put into universal church law that clergy must obey civil reporting requirements where they live, and that their obligation to report to the church in no way interferes with that.
If it is implemented fully, the Vatican could receive an avalanche of abuse and cover-up reports in the coming years. Since the law is procedural and not criminal in nature, it can be applied retroactively, meaning priests and nuns are required to report even old cases of sexual wrongdoing and cover-ups, and enjoy whistleblower protections for doing so.
Read more: Pope issues law to force priests and nuns to report sexual abuse