Vatican revises anti-abuse, porn rules

It fails to satisfy victims' advocates

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican issued a revised set of in-house rules Thursday to respond to clerical sex abuse worldwide, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children and priests who use child pornography, but making few substantive changes to existing practice.

The new rules make no mention of the need for bishops to report clerical sex abuse to police, provide no canonical sanctions for bishops who cover up for abusers and do not include any "one-strike and you're out" policy for priests who molest minors.

As a result, they failed to satisfy victims' advocates, who said the revised rules amounted to little more than "administrative housekeeping" of existing practice when what was needed were bold new rules threatening bishops who fail to report molester priests.

The new rules are intended for every diocese in the world, but they don't supplant the stricter, zero-tolerance rules that the Vatican approved for the United States in 2002, said Nicholas Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer who teaches at Duquesne University and is an authority on canon law in cases of sexual abuse.

Mr. Cafardi criticized both the new Vatican rules and the U.S. norms for failing to penalize bishops who knowingly kept perpetrators in ministry. "This deals with the perpetrators, not with the bishops who protect them. We haven't addressed that in America, and these norms don't address it either," he said.

However he considers the U.S. rules effective at preventing both abuse and the cover-up of abuse. And he disagreed with those who criticized the new rules for not requiring all bishops to report all allegations to the police. In some countries, rape victims who go to the authorities are routinely countercharged with sex crimes, he said.

"It could be a death sentence, not just for the abuser but for the victim in a country like that. These are universal norms for a church that is active in every country on the globe," he said.

The rules cover the canonical penalties and procedures used for the most grave crimes in the church, both sacramental and moral, and double the statute of limitations applied to them. One new element included lists the attempted ordination of women as a "grave crime" subject to the same set of procedures and punishments meted out for sex abuse.

That drew immediate criticism from women's ordination groups, who said making a moral equivalent between women priests and child rapists was offensive.

But Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's chief prosecutor for sex crimes, denied that they were equivalent, saying a moral crime, such as sexual abuse, is on a different level than a sacramental crime, such as an illicit ordination. He defended the lack of any mention of the need to report abuse to police, saying all Christians were required to obey civil laws that would already demand sex crimes be reported.

"If civil law requires you report, you must obey civil law," Monsignor Scicluna said. But "it's not for canonical legislation to get itself involved with civil law."

Barbara Dorris, of Survivors' Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the new guidelines "can be summed up in three words: missing the boat."

"They deal with one small procedure at the very tail end of the problem: defrocking pedophile priests," she said. "Hundreds of thousands of kids, however, have been sexually violated [by] many other more damaging and reckless moves by bishops and other church staff."

Earlier this year, the Vatican advised bishops to follow civil reporting laws and report abuse "crimes" -- not allegations -- to police. But that call was included in a nonbinding guideline posted on the Vatican website, not an official church document or piece of church legislation.

Sex crime allegations are handled by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected to lead the church in 2005, and became Pope Benedict XVI. The congregation's procedures call for canonical trials or administrative punishments which can result in a priest being dismissed from the clerical state.

The new rules extend the statue of limitations for the congregation's handling of alleged priestly abuse to 20 years, from 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday, and can be extended beyond that on a case-by-case basis.


Post-Gazette staff writer Ann Rodgers contributed.


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