St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Earlier this summer, Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking law from Vatican City according to news reports. Specifically, his Holiness issued a law that requires all Catholic priests and nuns across the globe to report clergy sexual abuse to church authorities. The same is true for any cover-ups of sexual abuse by superiors. The move is an important one in the Church’s new effort to hold its priestly hierarchy accountable for its tainted history of failing to protect its followers from clergy sexual abuse.

Protections and Guidelines

The new church law not only provides guidelines on reporting, but also provides protections for whistleblowers. This includes outlining procedures for how to conduct preliminary investigations when the accused is a cardinal, bishop, or other religious superior. The law also mandates all dioceses worldwide to have a system put in place so that sexual abuse claims are received confidentially. The law also provides a legal framework for bishops in the United States to use when preparing to adopt accountability measures in response to the sexual abuse scandal in America.

Thousands Affected

Under Pope Francis’s law, the world’s 660,000 nuns and 415, 000 priests are now mandated reporters of sexual abuse. They are required to let church authorities know when they learn or have well-founded motives to believe sexual misconduct is happening. This includes when a cleric or nun is engaged in sexual misconduct with an adult, sexual abuse of a minor, or possession of child pornography. They also must report to church authorities if there is belief that a superior has covered up any of the aforementioned crimes.

Of note, the new law does not mandate police reporting. Part of the Vatican’s reasoning is fear of the church in parts of the world where Catholics are a persecuted minority. Before this law, which places a civil reporting requirement, reporting was left up to the conscience of the individual priest and/or nun. That being said, there are no punitive measures for failure to report nor are there sanctions if dioceses fail to comply (although they could be accused of negligence for covering-up a scandal).

Help for Victims

The Pope also mandated that any victims of the Church reporting sexual abuse must be welcomed as well as offered spiritual, psychological, and medical assistance. Notably, the Vatican fell short of requiring financial reparations to victims.

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