The Vatican has denied any change to its policy over the mandatory reporting of sex-abuse cases to civil authorities, after reports last week of a Vatican training document that advised newly appointed bishops it was "not necessarily" their duty to do so.
Responding to media reports that a Vatican consultant, Paris-based Msgr Tony Anatrella, had made the suggestion to a bishops seminar, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said the church had a "moral and ethical responsibility" to report abuse.
“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 said.
The 2010 Guide to Understanding Basic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Procedures Concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations states that "civil law concerning the reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed". Cardinal O'Malley's statement basically reaffirms this position.
Given ongoing allegations of a clerical sex abuse cover-up by some bishops, commentators argued that Msgr Anatrella's comments to newly ordained bishops last week had looked like approval of such action. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Msgr Anatrella was simply "one conservative consultant talking at one seminar" and certainly not a Vatican policy chief.
Cardinal O'Malley's statement, however, makes no reference to the controversial outcome of the last meeting of the minors commission in Rome 10 days ago at which English sex abuse victim and lobbyist Peter Saunders was effectively relieved of his duties when he was given "a leave of absence".
Mr Saunders later told The Irish Times that "nothing significant" was happening at the commission and that despite his "great hope for Pope Francis", there had "so far been no real change".
On Monday, Irish commission member Marie Collins strongly criticised the Roman curia for frustrating commission decisions and those of Pope Francis on child protection.