Tuesday 15 October 2019

How the Catholic Church has handled cover-ups and sex abuse

Papal arrival: Pope Francis arrives for the opening of the global child protection summit. Photo: Getty Images
Papal arrival: Pope Francis arrives for the opening of the global child protection summit. Photo: Getty Images

Nicole Winfield

Q: Are the police called in suspected sex abuse cases?

A: Irish bishops who considered adopting a mandatory reporting policy in 1997 received a letter from the Vatican warning in-house Church investigations could be compromised.

But nowadays, in countries where clergy are required to report child abuse, bishops and superiors of religious orders are supposed to notify police. However, the policy is non-binding and was only articulated publicly in 2010.

Q: What's the canonical procedure?

A: Once a bishop or superior receives an allegation, he is supposed to conduct a preliminary investigation. If the claim has a "semblance of truth", he sends the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for review. The superior will often remove the priest from public ministry pending the outcome of the investigation.

Q: What are the penalties for sex abusers?

A: Penalties can range from a suspension from publicly celebrating the sacraments or exercising ministry to the more serious, such as defrocking. Abusers who are elderly have often been spared defrockings. Instead, they were given a lifetime of "penance and prayer".

Q: How many priests have been defrocked for sex abuse?

A: The Vatican told a United Nations committee that 848 priests had been defrocked and another 2,572 given lesser sanctions from 2004-2014.

Q: What about cover-ups?

A: In 2015, Pope Francis agreed to create a tribunal section within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to handle bishops accused of negligence. But a year later, he scrapped the plan. Instead, he outlined procedures to investigate and punish bishops. The Vatican office that vets new bishops now includes an "explicit question on how the candidate has dealt with sexual abuse issues and whether he has been criticised for not doing the right thing".

Irish Independent

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