Pope urged to introduce ‘zero tolerance’ on abuse into canon law

Group hopes prosecution of senior clerics in Australia and US leads to global groundswell

Anne Barrett Doyle said Pope Francis could “contribute enormously to the public record in Ireland” by releasing the names of the 3,400 priests the Vatican had found guilty of abuse under canon law over a decade. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Anne Barrett Doyle said Pope Francis could “contribute enormously to the public record in Ireland” by releasing the names of the 3,400 priests the Vatican had found guilty of abuse under canon law over a decade. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Pope Francis should introduce zero tolerance into canon law if he is to follow his words with actions to prevent the clerical sexual abuse of children by priests, an anti-abuse campaigner has said.

Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of Bishop Accountability, an online research group that tracks clerical abuse cases globally, and Mark Vincent Healy, who was sexually abused by two priests, said the pope’s letter to Catholics on Monday did not go far enough to address accountability for the church’s cover-up of clerical child sex abuse.

The campaigners were speaking at the announcement of an online database that lists the names of more than 70 Irish clergy who have been convicted or identified as abusers in official clerical abuse reports.

In his letter, Pope Francis said the church had not acted “in a timely matter” and expressed “shame and repentance” for the Catholic Church showing “no care for the little ones”.

Mr Healy described the letter as “more of the same” following “countless apologies and regrets” 34 years after the first cases of clerical abuse had emerged.

He called for “a new paradigm” to deal with the cover-up of abuse through an independent truth and reconciliation commission.

Ms Barrett Doyle said the pope could “contribute enormously to the public record in Ireland” by releasing the names of the 3,400 priests the Vatican had found guilty of abuse under canon law over a decade.

“There is such a disconnect between what Pope Francis says and what he actually does in terms of reforming the Catholic Church,” she told a press conference in Dublin. “If he wants to stop the abuse of children, there is a real simple thing he could do. He could make zero tolerance more than a slogan. It could actually become universal canon law.”

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The campaigners published the database before the two-day papal visit to Dublin and Knock shrine in Co Mayo this weekend in order “to start a conversation around the link between naming and accountability,” said Ms Barrett Doyle.

“Why, in his country, where so many atrocities have been exposed, is there no accountability? No wonder this is still an open wound here,” she said.

“What a terrible injustice to those thousands of survivors who told their stories to the church and to the media that not one bishop, not one religious superior has suffered so much as a criminal charge. What is the accountability gap in this country?”

She hopes that senior clerics being recently prosecuted in Australia and the US will lead to an international groundswell that will put pressure on the Irish authorities to take similar actions.

Zero tolerance, which exists for US bishops, would, under the canonical process, force senior clerics to remove an abusing priest from ministry permanently when a priest abuses even one child, she said.

Mr Healy collated figures from audit reports of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church showing that 3,377 allegations against 1,316 male clerics resulted in just 82 convictions, a conviction rate of just 6 per cent.

“We don’t even know who those 82 are,” he said. “We can’t even establish a de facto database of 82; if they have been convicted, why isn’t that public knowledge?”