No legal obligation to report abuse, bishops told

 

CHILD PROTECTION guidelines issued this week by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) conclude with an observation that there is no “juridical obligation” on bishops to report “illicit facts” to the police.

Basing itself on the legal terms of the 1929 concordat (renewed in 1984) between the Holy See and Italy, the document states: “Under Italian law, the bishop, given that he holds no public office nor is he a public servant, is not obliged to report illicit facts of the type covered by this document to the relevant state judicial authorities.”

The document was drawn up in response to a call last May by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on every bishops’ conference to prepare its own guidelines document if it did not already have one.

Remarkably, the CEI, whose ultimate boss is Pope Benedict XVI, did not have such a document. More remarkably, the new guidelines indicate an apparent total failure to understand one of the most basic principles in combating paedophilia – the need to inform the relevant judicial or police authorities of individual cases.

Instead, the CEI’s document reflects the extent to which some influential, often Italian figures in the Holy See, fail to understand the impact and significance of the clerical child sex abuse problem. The document does underline the “fundamental importance” of protecting minors while urging any bishop who is informed of an incident of sexual abuse to “make himself available to listen to the victim and his/her relatives”.

However, much of the five pages of guidelines are concerned with procedural norms based on the relevant CDF rulings or on canon law. It is only towards the end of the document that the CEI points out that, under Italian law, crimes related to “sexual violence, underage prostitution and child pornography” require preventative detention.

The Italian bishops concede that co-operation with civil authorities might be important: “In cases regarding this type of crime where an investigation is ongoing or where a penal proceeding [trial] has been opened according to Italian state law, the co-operation of the bishop with the civil authorities will prove very important, within the ambit of respective areas of competence and with respect for both state norms and those established by the concordat.”

US abuse victims’ group Snap was one of many to condemn the document, saying: “Once again the Catholic Church hierarchy has missed the boat . . . These prelates had a chance to do more than the bare minimum and thus set a good example for their colleagues around the world by putting the safety of children first and foremost, but they chose instead to put the reputation of the church first.”