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.