Pope Francis Issues New Reporting Laws, SNAP Responds
A lack of policies or procedures has never been the main problem in the clergy sex abuse scandal. Rather, it has been a lack of accountability for hierarchs who conceal sex crimes and a deficit of courage and willingness to take immediate, decisive action on those who have enabled those crimes to occur.
Mandated reporting is a good thing. Yet while this new law will compel priests and nuns to report abuse, it requires them to do so internally, to the very Church structures and offices that have been receiving and routing allegations of abuse for years. We would have been far more impressed if this new law required church officials to report to police and prosecutors instead.Oversight from external, secular authorities will better protect children and deter cover-ups.
It is notable that this new law contains whistleblower protections for those who come forward. But we can only wonder if Church officials will simply be able to retaliate against whistleblowers in different ways, as we have seen in the recent case of Fr. John Gallagher.
While we remain skeptical of this new law, we recognize some good things within it. For example, we are glad that the Vatican is specifically recognizing the plight of vulnerable adults by acknowledging “the abuse of authority,” regardless of a victim’s age. We are also glad that the Vatican has pledged to move quickly on internal investigations.
But ultimately, the one thing that survivors and advocates have been asking for is accountability for the Church hierarchy. Yet again, the Vatican has made a grand pronouncement on the issue of clergy abuse while failing to establish penalties for hierarchs involved in cover-ups or creating an avenue to safely report the egregious conduct of bishops and cardinals.
Since the famous Dallas Charter was published in 2002, Church officials have consistently talked about the reforms they have made. But those reforms have almost unilaterally applied to priests and nuns. While identifying and removing abusers is important to prevent future crimes, it is equally important to punish those who enabled the abuse in the first place.
Look no further than Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted in a court of law for the rape of two young boys. Despite that conviction, the Vatican has yet to take any punitive action. If the Pope wanted to send the message that he was taking sex crimes seriously, he would defrock the Cardinal immediately. Instead, two months have passed since the conviction and he remains a Cardinal.
Every single Pope has had the power to deter cover-ups and protect children by ousting bad hierarchs. Until prelates are demoted or defrocked for their roles in minimizing or ignoring sex crimes, nothing will change.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)