Vatican City — The Vatican on Monday responded to allegations it long concealed clerical sex abuse by making it clear for the first time that bishops and clerics worldwide should report such crimes to police if they are required to by law.
The policy, spelled out in a guide for laymen and posted on the Vatican’s Web site, matches the policy worked out by U.S. bishops after an explosion of sex abuse cases in 2002.
Unlike the American norms, however, the Vatican guide contains no call for “zero tolerance” for priests who rape and molest children, and victims immediately criticized it as insufficient.
The Vatican insists it has long been the Catholic Church’s policy for bishops, like all Christians, to obey civil reporting laws. But such an explicit policy had never been spelled out — until Monday.
“Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” said the newly posted guideline.
That phrase was not included in a draft of the document obtained Friday by The Associated Press. The Vatican offered no explanation for the addition. However, Pope Benedict XVI has come under increasing pressure to show the Vatican is serious about confronting clerical abuse and cracking down on church officials who let it go on virtually unchecked for decades.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican analyst, said the guidelines will help parishioners hold bishops accountable.
“While the Vatican never told bishops they could not report abuse to the police, this is the first time the Vatican has been so clear on the responsibility to follow civil law concerning reporting of crimes,” said Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
Still, it was unclear what enforcement mechanism the guideline published Monday might have. It is just that — a guideline — and not an official instruction to bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In addition, the guideline makes clear that bishops are to report “crimes” — not just allegations.