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Catholic Church Promises Further Reforms to Curb Child Sex Abuse

— February 27, 2019

High-ranking Catholic officials in the U.S. are promising big changes, but critics of the Church say it’s playing little more than an old trick: waiting without ever really reforming.

Following years of global scandal and outrage, the legal loopholes that have enabled Catholic bishops to cover up child sex abuse may finally be closing.

The Associated Press reports that two U.S.-based cardinals claim the Vatican is working on “clarification” to a 2016 law.

That law, says the AP, was supposed to hold bishops and other members of the Catholic hierarchy liable for refusing or failing to report abuse. But the church’s critics claim the law was rarely used and largely symbolic.

Speaking at a press conference Saturday, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said he’s received assurances from the Pope that new guidance documents “would come out very soon.” Similar confirmations were echoed by Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago, claiming that impending regulations will “standardize” reporting procedures and task specific Vatican offices with clergy investigations.

The new law would streamline and clarify Pope Francis’s 2016 act, entitled “As a Loving Mother” and passed in lieu of creating a special tribunal to handle abuse cases.

Cupich, notes the A.P., says the law has been applied in “recent cases” but provided no news on how or when.

Image of Pope Francis in the Philippines. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Benhur Arcayan. Listed as public domain in the Philippines and free from the potential of copyright claims.

While the Vatican attempted to create a special tribunal in 2015, it never gained much traction in prosecuting bishops or other church officials charged in abuse cover-ups.

“As a Loving Mother” was passed the following year. But in announcing the 2016 law, Francis made no mention of the tribunal and simply reiterated existing procedure.

That law, writes the Associated Press, “looks at the objective state of the [bishop’s] incapacity to govern,” whereas tribunals require a higher standard of proof for prosecution. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor, says the 2016 legislation makes it easier to punish wayward bishops because accusers “only have to denounce an objective fact: that nothing was done.”

“Right now, the Holy See is working on, preparing a clarification of the implementation that will come out very soon, I am guaranteed,” he Scicluna added.

Not surprisingly, Vatican promises of reform have been met with skepticism by critics of the church and its secretive institutions. An opinion piece published by the Baltimore Sun on Monday questions why the Pope, “rather than taking responsibility and leadership,” has “passed the buck to local church leaders to hold clergy accountable in their own dioceses.”

Furthermore, it claims that many of the reforms proposed at a recent Vatican summit on sex abuse “were not new and were generally already in the works.” For instance, an initiative to create and publish a guidebook for bishops on how best to address abuse only legally impacts Catholic children in Rome—not youth attending services around the world.

Italian canon attorney Linda Ghisoni told the Associated Press that the Holy See needs to change its laws concerning the so-called “pontifical secret,” which mandates internal confidentiality in the governance of sex abuse cases.

While Ghisoni doesn’t advocate a full dissolution of secrecy, she says regulations “should allow for the development of a climate of greater transparency and trust.”

That may not be enough to sate critics like the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, which claims the Vatican is doing what it’s done for decades: telling victims to keep waiting.


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