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All have rights, says Vatican guidance on abuse accusations

24 July 2020

Vatican publishes guide to handling child-abuse allegations against RC clergy


Pope Francis, pictured last month, has previously declared an “all-out battle” on the abuse of minors. The Vatican refused, however, to provide evidence to the national child abuse inquiry

Pope Francis, pictured last month, has previously declared an “all-out battle” on the abuse of minors. The Vatican refused, however, to provide eviden...

THE Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has published a guide to handling child-abuse allegations against Roman Catholic clergy.

The guide, a Vademecum on Certain Points of Procedure in Treating Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors Committed by Clerics, deals with four areas that, the CDF says, need to be addressed. They include protection of the person, ensuring that the alleged victim and his or her family are treated with “dignity and respect” and given appropriate support. The document says that this support should be available to the person accused, and that the “good name” of the accused must be defended; an accusation alone does not constitute “a violation of one’s good name”.

The guidelines state that the accused has a right to self-defence and to appeal, even if any decision by the Pope about the outcome of a case is final. Emphasis is placed on the need for all information from the accuser(s) to be verified and evaluated “scrupulously and accurately”.

In the area of communication, it requests that “the inappropriate or illicit diffusion of information to the public” be avoided so as not to compromise or give a false impression of a case during any investigations. But the alleged victim and witnesses have no “obligation of silence about the allegations”.

The investigation “should be carried out with respect for the civil laws of each state”, the guidelines say; but even where there is no legal imperative to do so, the ecclesiastical authorities should “make a report to the competent civil authorities if this is considered necessary” to protect the person involved or the vulnerable, including children, from further criminal acts.

Finally, the document recommends that “during the preliminary investigation phase, the transfer of the priest involved is always to be avoided,” even though “precautionary measures” can be taken to “protect both the good name of the persons involved and the public good, to avoid scandal, the covering up of evidence, or possible threats to the alleged victim. . . Once the reason for such precautionary measures no longer exists or the process has concluded, they can be revoked.”

On Tuesday, the secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the Most Revd Felix Anthony Machado, announced that the CBCI would implement the new guidelines in line with the country’s civil laws.

The Roman Catholic Church has been criticised in recent years for its handling of abuse allegations. In 2017, it was announced in France that the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, would stand trial for waiting until 2015 to open an investigation into reports of child abuse by a priest which had been known to him since the 1980s (News, 29 September 2017).

The following year, Pope Francis’s defence of Bishop Juan Barros against accusations that he had witnessed and covered up abuse by a priest, Fernando Karadima, caused controversy in Chile (News, 23 February 2018). Last year, Amnesty International accused the Pope, during his visit to Ireland, of wasting an opportunity to promise to hold to account all those who had hidden or perpetrated child abuse, in the Vatican as well as elsewhere (News, 28 August 2018).

Last year, Pope Francis declared an “all-out battle” on the abuse of minors (News, 25 February 2019). The Vatican refused, however, to provide evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) for its investigation into the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales had failed to protect children from abuse. A lawyer for the inquiry described this as “very disappointing” (News, 29 October 2019).

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, however, announced on Sunday that he had reopened closed financial settlements between the Church and two people who had made allegations of abuse against clergy — including a survivor of abuse by Fr John Tolkien, son of J. R. R. Tolkien. The RC Church has agreed to treble the compensation paid to the survivor: a decision that may lead to higher levels of compensation for other survivors.

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