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A disappointing start to the global battle against abuse

The Vatican gave bishops around the world a year to produce the most basic guidelines on handling abuse allegations and more than half of them failed to submit the text in time

By on Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Mgr Scicluna, the CDF's promoter of justice (Photo: CNS)

Mgr Scicluna, the CDF's promoter of justice (Photo: CNS)

In May 2011 the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote to every bishops’ conference in the world asking them to draw up guidelines on tackling clerical abuse. The CDF gave the bishops’ conferences a generous deadline: they had a whole year to draft the document. Some conferences, of course, already had procedures for handling abuse allegations, including our own. But the overwhelming majority did not. Note that the CDF only asked for guidelines, rather than binding norms, and allowed wriggle room by saying that child protection policies could be drafted in “ways appropriate to specific situations in different regions”.

A year has now passed and the results are in. Mgr Charles Scicluna, the CDF’s promoter of justice, told the Italian monthly Jesus that without counting Africa “more than half of the conferences responded” to the May deadline. This is an odd formulation. Why didn’t Mgr Scicluna say simply that more than half of conferences had responded? Surely because, when you include Africa, the CDF had received responses from less than half of the world’s conferences before the deadline. Think about that for a moment: the Vatican gave bishops around the world a year to produce the most rudimentary guidelines on handling abuse allegations and more than half of them still failed to submit the text in time.

Mgr Scicluna promised that conferences that failed to submit guidelines would receive “a letter of reminder”. But it’s unlikely that so mild a sanction will stir those that failed to create guidelines into action. Meanwhile, the CDF will not begin to evaluate guidelines that have been submitted until after the summer. Even then, the process will take at least a year. This is not to criticise Mgr Scicluna, who has done more to uncover and punish clerical abuse than anyone except Pope Benedict. But the Vatican as a whole needs to apply much more pressure to bishops’ conferences that fail to treat the defence of children with the utmost seriousness. As we have said before, the Church should offer children the same level of protection whether they live in New York or Nairobi.

If the Vatican allows bishops to delay producing even the most basic guidelines, then it is even more likely that the abuse crisis will spread rapidly beyond North America and Europe, with devastating consequences for the Church’s mission in every country it touches.

  • gabriel_syme

    Yes it is disappointing that so many Bishops have failed to meet the Vatican requirements.

    No doubt it is down to some resting on their laurels and thinking this is all someone else problem.  But that is the kind of complacency which caused the abuse scandal to start with.

    To be fair, I suppose abuse guidlines are not a priority, if your diocese is wracked by war, starvation,  terrorism and is suffering frequent air raids etc (as per some African Bishops).

    But hopefully, with some Vatican pressure, this situation will be put right very soon.

  • paulpriest

    Response?
    Suspend the Conferences until they do as they’re told.
    In exactly the same way they should be suspended when they fail to implement Papal or CDF directives or Motu Proprios or defiantly renege on their moral, doctrinal and canonical responsibilities to the faithful – especially in the realm of Life issues. 

    His Holiness has already spoken unequivocally in regard to Bishops’ Conferences and their hijacking of  apostolic duties and responsibilities which are solely within the remit of the individual Bishop themselves and not as some homogenous amalgam.

    Time to issue some reminders!

  • teigitur

    I totally agree. Too many of them think they can do as they please, in their little “kingdoms”!

  • Cestius

    This is depressing. Not only are some bishops conferences failing in their basic duty of care, but they’re also giving the haters and catholic-phobes all the ammunition they need.

  • theroadmaster

    It looks like the lessons which have been learn’t by the episcopal conferences of the countries,which have been in the eye of the raging hurricane, that is the sex-abuse scandal, have not been picked up by other bishops’ conferences around the world, in terms of accountability and transparency.  These are the old failings which characterized the responses of too many bishops and priests in recent years.  The time is long past when complacency is put too one side and  rigorous programs of child protection are enforced and their adherence by bishops’ conferences around the world are reported to the Vatican.

  • Parasum

    “The Vatican gave bishops around the world a year to produce the most
    basic guidelines on handling abuse allegations and more than half of
    them failed to submit the text in time.”

    ## I wonder how many theologians the Vatican has silenced in that time. It moves like the Flash when it wants to -  so how come bishops & their chanceries can’t attend to trivia like the molestation of minors ?  Oh, got it – it’s not a priority for them. Big surprise there.

    “It looks like the lessons which have been learn’t by the episcopal
    conferences of the countries,which have been in the eye of the raging
    hurricane, that is the sex-abuse scandal, have not been picked up by
    other bishops’ conferences around the world, in terms of accountability
    and transparency.”

    ## Well, duh :)

  • Jonathan West

    The Vatican shows no sign of being all that serious about the issue. One small sign of seriousness would be for them to publish the report of the Apostolic Visitation into Ealing Abbey that was conducted last year.

  • Guest

    If over half of the bishops’ conferences around the world cannot draft a child protection policy in a calendar year, surely it is not beyond the vatican’s resources to have written a default policy that is mandatory as of July 2010 for all non compliant bishops??

  • Ex catholic now disgusted

    Happily for once I see comments that are mildly critical of Head Office, so at least the faithful take this subject seriously even if the Vatican and the Bishops do not. The complete lack of response, other than to ignore or vilify the abused, from Bishops concerning abuse/rape is appalling. This latest episode of not producing Child Protection Policies within a year just shows that the conferences still do not take abuse seriously and have no or little concern for innocents within the Church. We then have the response of Head Office. All they are going to do is send a polite letter as a reminder. Even the submissions they have, they are not going to bother with for months, and then when they can get around to looking at them they will take a year to publish their findings.  And this in 2011/12/13.  It frankly beggars believe, its not as if this is suddenly happened or come to light. what were they all doing for the previous ten years?

    If the establishment spent as much time and effort in stamping out this vile abuse from the Church as they did to conceal the perpetrators from the public and civil authorities (for fear of what the truth might do to the Church’s reputation) then we would not be where we are.

    Truly shocking!!