Vatican body stresses ‘moral responsibility’ to report abuse

Commission for protection of minors emphasises church’s duty to inform authorities

The Vatican’s commission for the protection of minors has issued a strongly worded statement emphasising that there is a “moral and ethical responsibility” on relevant church authorities and others to report all suspected cases of child sexual abuse to civil authorities.

Commission President Cardinal Seán O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, said: "As Pope Francis has so clearly stated: 'The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must not be kept secret for any longer. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all'."

The Cardinal continued “we, the president and the members of the commission, wish to affirm that our obligations under civil law must certainly be followed, but even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities who are charged with protecting our society.”

He also said that "as the Holy Father's advisory commission for the protection of minors, we recently shared with Pope Francis an overview of the commission's extensive education efforts in local churches over the past two years and reiterated the members' willingness to provide this material at courses offered in Rome, including to the annual training programme for new bishops and to the offices of the Roman Curia for their use in their own child protection efforts."


Frustrating decisions

On Monday Irish commission member Marie Collins strongly criticised the Roman Curia for frustrating commission decisions and those of Pope Francis on child protection. She told The Irish Times of a proposal by the commission in 2014 of a training module on child protection for new bishops. It "was approved by the Holy Father and he actually suggested it be expanded to [include] the curia as well as the new bishops" but "there was great resistance to it [by the curia]" and it had not materialised.

She also spoke of the tribunal, approved last year by the pope, which was due to hold bishops to account for their handling of abuse cases.

“It went to be implemented and that’s where the brick wall is. The implementation is the problem,” she said.

Last week it emerged the Vatican had been telling newly appointed bishops that it was "not necessarily" their duty to report allegations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police. Such guidelines were presented to new bishops in Rome last autumn at the annual training course organised by the Congregation of Bishops.

The guidelines were prepared by French psychotherapist Msgr Tony Anatrella and stated that "according to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds."

In response Teresa Devlin, Maynooth-based director of safeguarding for the Catholic church in Ireland, said it was mandatory to report allegations of child abuse and that had not changed.

This was underlined by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin who said all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland must be reported to gardaí. “Gardaí have the ability and expertise to investigate matters that diocesan personnel would not,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times