Today the Vatican sent a letter to bishops around the world stressing the importance of reporting the sexual abuse of minors to authorities. However, the church is still dragging its feet on the issue.
The New York Times reports that the new guidelines point out that the sexual abuse of minors isn't just a violation of church law, but "a crime prosecuted by civil law" (which should really be obvious to everyone no matter what their religion is). The document urges clergy to cooperate with civil authorities, to investigate all claims, and to inform the Vatican of all "credible" cases. Bishops are also directed to listen to victims, create "safe environment" programs for children, and educate seminarians on celibacy and the damage done to victims of sexual abuse.
Yet the guidelines don't make reporting abuse to law enforcement mandatory. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said this is because informing authorities may present problems for those serving under repressive regimes. "Each reality is different, culturally and from the point of view of different countries' laws," he said. The letter downplayed the importance of civilian review boards that have found many bishops covered up abuse, saying they, "cannot substitute for the discernment and potestas regiminis of individual bishops."
Unsurprisingly, victims groups were unsatisfied by the new regulations. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said in a statement:
"There's no enforcement here ... there are no penalties for bishops who don't come up with guidelines or who violate their own guidelines ... Until that happens — until top church officials who hide and enable abuse are severely disciplined — top church officials will continue to hide and enable abuse."