US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The word from Rome: Bishops, prepare your sex abuse guidelines

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Some rare good news in the sex abuse crisis today: The Vatican issued a circular letter telling national bishops' conferences to prepare guidelines for handling accusations of sexual abuse of minors within a year. There is a lot to like in the directives, clearly modeled on the U.S. Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Critics, notably the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, pointed out that such norms don't have to be mandatory and that it still lacks a "global no tolerance policy."

Both those critiques have validity, but in reference to the first, conferences have no canonical authority over a local bishop (weird but true), and in the second, there is no current way to adjudicate a "global" no-tolerance policy. You'd need something like a Vatican Supreme Court, and while there are courts in the Vatican, I think it unlikely they would be able to deliver on "speedy" in a matter of this gravity. I think what we want here is good local procedures that protect children, quickly respond to allegations, educate everyone about child sex abuse, and make sense in the many unique cultures that make up the church. And I think today's letter is a step in that direction, and more than a baby step.

Of course, it's hard to criticize SNAP when over in Philadelphia, another cardinal has been caught red-faced after having failed to follow his own guidelines; what's worse is that he and the other bishops in the diocese have pretty much hung their lay review board out to dry after more or less keeping its members out of the loop on a number of cases. You can read the account of the chair of Philly's review board chair, Ana Maria Catanzaro, over at Commonweal. It's pretty disheartening stuff.