Pope Francis instructs reporting of sexual abuse to higher church authorities

Sunday, May 12, 2019

On Thursday, Pope Francis announced new church law to mandate reporting sexual abuses to the church authorities. Per the decree signed by the leader of Roman Catholic Christianity, priests and nuns of the Catholic churches are expected to notify the higher church authorities, as a step to act on sexual abuse and its cover-up happening in the churches.

In February, Catholic bishops from around the world attended a summit in Rome, overseen by the Pope, regarding sexual abuse by the clergy in the churches and the congregations. During the summit, Pope Francis said the victims of sexual abuse in churches had a right to "concrete and efficient measures" against the abuse. Amongst reported incidents of sexual abuse and cover-ups perpetrated by church authorities, recently Cardinal George Pell, a senior Catholic figure at the Holy See, as well as former archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick were convicted for sexually abusing minors.

The decree signed by the Pope read "The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord; cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims; and harm the community of the faithful. In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting full credibility of the gospel message and the effectiveness of the church's mission".

The decree also mentions establishing a system to keep the identity of the victims confidential. Per numbers reported by The Associated Press, 415 thousand priests and 660 thousand nuns are subject to the requirement to report to the hierarchy misconducts happening in the church by religious leaders. The decree instructs archbishops to notify the Vatican City of any sexual allegations. The Vatican is to decide within a month if an investigation is required, and the investigation ordinarily has to be completed in three months.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Holy See said, "We have said for years that priests should follow certain strict rules, so why should the bishops and other members of the church hierarchy be exempt?" Vatican archbishop Charles Scicluna said, "People must know that bishops are at the service of the people. They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported."

Though Catholic nuns and priests are expected to report the incident of sexual abuse to the authorities, the decree did not mandate filing a report with police officials. To this, Peter Iseley of worldwide victim group Ending Clergy Abuse said, "The church should establish the law for reporting and justify the exception [...] Instead, they are using the exception as a pretext for not reporting sexual abuse to civil authorities and to keep abuse secret". Iseley also said, "Bishops reporting to themselves, that's been the problem from the beginning [...] All they did was add another layer of bureaucracy; this doesn't require civil authorities. What we need are police and prosecutors."

Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), another sect of Christianity, also implements a system of reporting abuse internally to a central authority. Sexual abuse in the religious congregation is reported to the Watch Tower Society, the organisation which directs the JWs on doctrines. Per the doctrines, testimony of two witnesses is required to convict a person for the alleged crime. According to a recent report by The Atlantic, the Watch Tower maintains a database of the accused molesters; the Watch Tower has been penalised in various jurisdictions for covering up and protecting alleged sexual abusers.