Vatican letter advises bishops on combating abuse


:THE HOLY See will next Monday release the text of a letter sent to bishops worldwide, offering guidance on how to combat child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

The letter comes as no surprise since US cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had anticipated just such a document last November.

At that time, Cardinal Levada said the document would include “directives” dealing with issues such as the “reception” of victims, working with civilian authorities, protecting children and the training of candidates for the priesthood.

Last July, after an unprecedented six-month period when not only the Vatican but also Pope Benedict XVI found themselves in the eye of an international media storm created by a series of sex abuse revelations worldwide, the congregation issued an updated set of revisions to church law, primarily concerned with the handling of sex abuse cases.

The congregation indicated last July that it was working on a document for the bishops, intended to “make the instructions re the handling of sex abuse cases more rigorous, more efficient and more coherent”.

In essence, however, last July’s revisions basically consolidated existing practice, codifying a series of changes, known as “special faculties”, to John Paul II’s 2001 document, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela.

In brief, those revisions included: an accelerated laicisation process; the use of laity in church tribunals on sex abuse cases; the extension of the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases to 20 years, dating from a victim’s 18th birthday; branding the possession of child pornography as a “grave crime”; the specification that the same penalties for the sexual abuse of minors also apply to the abuse of disabled adults; the “clarification” that even “cardinals, patriarchs, legates of the Apostolic See and bishops” are subject to the jurisdiction of the congregation on matters related to sexual abuse.

Church critics remain unimpressed by new Vatican directives, with US victim lobby Snap commenting: “More Vatican guidelines on abuse won’t be very effective. Words on paper don’t protect kids. Decisive action protects kids. But decisive action is precisely what the Vatican refuses to take – either against most predator priests or all complicit bishops.”

In recent weeks the sex abuse issue has continued to plague the Vatican. Canadian bishop Raymond Lahey last week admitted in court to possession of child pornography, just weeks after Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe in a TV interview said he had had intimate relations with two child nephews but did not consider himself a paedophile. The Holy See has indicated that both men, who have resigned as bishops, may yet face serious canonical sanctions.