Pope Francis approves proposals to create specific process for dealing with senior clerics who are negligent in handling abuse
Pope Francis has established a tribunal to investigate bishops accused of failing to protect children and vulnerable adults from sex abuse, in a move seen as the most forceful act by the pontiff to date to tackle the church’s legacy of abuse and cover-ups.
The Catholic church has long been accused of turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children by clergy, with countless accusations over the years that church officials knowingly covered up abuse instead of confronting priests.
But the tribunal, which was approved by the Pope following a recommendation by a committee created to find ways to tackle abuse, represents an attempt by the Vatican to create a structure to formally address the problem.
Child abuse has long been seen as the greatest threat to the church’s reputation among Catholics and those outside the church. Abuse was illegal under church rules, but there has never been a clear system to deal with accusations that bishops have sought to hide sexual abuse by subordinates. Bishops would be able to appeal tribunal decisions, the Vatican said. While the pope would have the final say in cases where a bishop was accused of wrongdoing, the Vatican said he was likely to respect decisions reached by the tribunal.
The news was announced as the Argentinian pontiff – who has previously warned clergy not to cover up sex abuse – faces pressure over allegations against the Australian cardinal George Pell, the third-highest ranking official in the Vatican. Old allegations against Pell, including one that he sought to bribe an abuse victim in return for his silence, have resurfaced as part of a royal commission investigation into sex abuse in Australia. Pell has vehemently denied all allegations and said the bribe accusation was the result of a misunderstanding with the victim.
But the controversy has prompted a lay member of the abuse committee, a British abuse survivor named Peter Saunders, to call for Pell to be ejected from the church. Pell has sought legal advice in a war of words with Saunders after the abuse victim claimed that Pell had been “almost sociopathic” in his display of indifference towards other victims.
On Wednesday, the Vatican agreed to five proposals put forward by the abuse committee: a duty to report “all complaints” of episcopal abuse to an appropriate congregation; the mandate that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judges bishops with regard to “crimes of abuse”; the establishment of a judicial section that will be available to the prefect for penal processes regarding the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy; the appointment of a secretary to assist the tribunal; andfive years to develop all of the proposals and complete an evaluation of their effectiveness.
The Vatican said the council of cardinals had unanimously agreed to the proposals before they were approved by the pope, who had approved “sufficient resources” to implement the proposals. The abuse council is headed by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, one of the areas in the US that was historically hard hit by abuse and where such episodes have been well documented.
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor who sits on the papal abuse commission, expressed her pleasure with the approval of the “proposal on accountability” on Twitter. The other abuse survivor who sits on the committee, Peter Saunders, also expressed his satisfaction after previously criticising the Vatican’s record as “abysmal”.
Source: The Guardian