Bishops Have Duty to Report Sex Abuse

Liz De La Torre

Rocked by evidence of protecting offender priests and with Pope Benedict XVI under fire for letting sex abuse cases go rampant, the Catholic Church stands in the midst of one of the most widely publicized scandals of the decade. What is the Vatican’s response to the clerical reproach that has the entire world waiting for justice? Simply put, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” a statement published online which calls all bishops to report suspected or known abusers to police.

This statement, implemented Apr. 12, does not address allegations that the Catholic Church has been concealing these sex abuse cases nor does it address the fact that its confidentiality clause allows for offender priests to thwart and bypass justice. Although the Vatican claims the policy has always been in effect, it has never been enforced until now. Still, victims have argued that it is too late for this policy to be mandated and that if they really wanted to enforce this rule, the Vatican would have made a public announcement instead on relying on the internet to deal with such an important issue. It is also unclear about actions taken for failure to report and punishment for offender priests who actually are reported. In addition, people are questioning how reliable or trustworthy bishops or other clergymen will be in reporting these crimes and just how willing they are to turn in their associates. Such is the case with a 1985 letter that reveals Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, postponing a decision to defrock a priest for “the good of the Universal Church” after waiting years to answer a request about a priest who molested children in California.

Others are skeptical of the effectiveness of the policy and even move for harsher punishment: “Let’s keep this in perspective: it’s one sentence and it’s virtually nothing unless and until we see tangible signs that bishops are responding,” said Joelle Casteix, director for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. “One sentence can’t immediately reverse centuries of self-serving secrecy. It would be far more effective to fire or demote bishops who have clearly endangered kids and enabled abuse and hid crimes, than to add one sentence to a policy that is rarely followed with consistency.”