In Brief

Pope Francis to force clergy to report sex abuse

New law will make it compulsory for all Catholic priests and nuns to report abuse and cover-ups by superiors

Pope Francis has issued a new law which makes it mandatory for all Catholic priests and nuns to report clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors.

The new edict, which covers more than one million nuns and priests around the world, provides whistleblower protections for anyone making a report and requires all dioceses to have a system in place to receive the claims confidentially. It also outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop or cardinal.

Described as “groundbreaking” by The Guardian, the move is “the latest attempt by Francis to respond to the global sexual abuse and cover-up scandal that has devastated the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy and his own papacy”.

2018 marked a tipping-point for the Church, with a series of scandals including the defrocking of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the eruption of the abuse crisis in Chile and criminal trials against cardinals in Australia and France.

The BBC says it has left Francis “under serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to what is the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church - one which some say has left its moral authority in tatters”.

Vatican officials claim that in giving all local churches rules on how to report misbehaviour, the Pope was in effect writing accountability for bishops into Church law.

“Most dioceses in the US and Europe already have these systems” says CNN, so “the new norms will likely be more important in countries where there are not already well-established guidelines for reporting and handling sexual abuse”.

“If it is implemented fully, the Vatican could well see an avalanche of abuse and cover-up reports in the coming years,” says the Associated Press. “Since the law is procedural and not criminal in nature, it can be applied retroactively, meaning priests and nuns are now required to report even old cases of sexual wrongdoing and cover-ups — and enjoy whistleblower protections for doing so”.

However, “victims of abuse and their advocates are likely to be underwhelmed by the new norms, which do not address the Church trials or penalties for abuse and its cover-up, and instead focus on reporting procedures,” says the New York Times.

The new law stops short of requiring members of the clergy to report alleged abuse directly to the police, because the Church has made clear to do so in some countries would put their own priests’ lives at risk.

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