New Vatican Abuse Law: Clericalism Reigns Supreme

Let’s just cut to the bottom line, shall we?

Here’s what Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the watchdog group Bishop Accountability, said in a statement Tuesday taking a dim view of the new norms.

“The edict has three serious weaknesses,” Barrett Doyle said. “It stipulates no penalties for those who ignore it, it mandates no transparency to the public, and it doesn’t require the permanent removal of abusers from ministry.”

“This is not the bold action that’s desperately needed,” she said. “A law without penalties is not a law at all – it’s a suggestion.”

More about this “groundbreaking” new law at: Pope issues global standards for reporting, investigating clergy abuse

Correct as she is, here’s what I see as the real problem: the the basic structure.

  1. While all priests and religious are now required to report to their superiors or to Rome, it’s all handled in-house. They’re still not required to tell the cops, much less parishioners. That’s all left for local laws to mandate. So the Vatican way of doing things still applies: no division of powers, so the superior one reports to is effectively judge and jury as well.
  2. If the superior passes it up the chain, an archbishop decides. Well, that worked out so well with Cardinal McCarrick, didn’t it? Oh wait, in cases of superiors, it must be investigated by the Vatican.
  3. So the clergy must also report child abuse and cover-ups by superiors to the Holy See, presumably to make sure the local bishops don’t cover it up. But instead of having just one office deal with abuse, now has no less than 6: 1) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — a/k/a the Inquisition, which now deals with abuse of minors (and covering it all up); 2) the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; 3) the Congregation for Bishops; 4) the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; 5) the Congregation for the Clergy; and the 6) Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. No clear lines of jurisdiction have been drawn, so the bureaucratic buck-passing that is bound to occur will slow everything down.
  4. Yet the Vatican, which has notoriously often takes years to make the smallest decision, is now required to report within a single month, and the preliminary investigation done in only 90 days.
  5. And it’s left up to the Secretariat of State to inform the other offices of the result. Whoops — make that 7 offices are involved. Why leave the determination of who may be told what to Rome’s equivalent of the State Department? I can only imagine because of the political concerns in any decision.

There are a few minor cosmetic improvements — treat victims with dignity, give them spiritual, medical and psychological assistance, yadda, yadda yadda. Victims can’t be forced to be quiet, and must be informed of the outcome of the investigation. But (and here’s the point) the investigation itself is still under pontifical secrecy.

So even if it works, the result will be a global system of internally-mandated reporters, requiring every diocese to create a system to receive claims of sex abuse and cover-up, with Vatican oversight.

I really do not see any real improvement here. The whole thing is still all driven by clerics universally determined to keep their privileges and their secrets intact.

The new law was issued as a motu proprio — basically, on the pope’s whim — going into effect on June 1 for 3 years. Dioceses are required to establish their reporting systems and inform their Vatican embassies that it is in place by June 1, 2020.

Don’t hold your breath.


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