Vatican guidelines flawed, say advocates

A SUPPORT group for victims of clerical sex abuse has described new Vatican child protection guidelines as “dangerously flawed”.

One in Four said the Vatican had “missed an opportunity to deal definitively with the sex abuse scandal” and to protect thousands of children.

The Vatican told bishops yesterday that it was important to co-operate with police in reporting priests who rape and molest children, although it did not make such reporting mandatory. It also said they should develop guidelines by May 2012 for preventing sex abuse.

But it is unlikely to impress advocates for victims, who have long blamed bishops, determined to protect the Church and its priests, for fuelling the scandal.

Critically, the letter reinforces bishops’ authority in dealing with abuse cases. It says independent lay review boards created in countries — Ireland has the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) — to oversee the Church’s child protection policies “cannot substitute” for bishops’ judgment and power.

However Martin Long, head of the Catholic Communications Office, said bishops in Ireland “had no discretion in that regard” and that in Ireland, the Catholic Church had operated a system of mandatory reporting of sex abuse allegations since 1996.

He said any allegation in relation to clerical child abuse was automatically referred by the Church to the civil authorities.

Moreover, the important work of the NBSCCC and its chief executive Ian Elliott had been recognised by Pope Benedict, said Mr Long.

However, One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis said last week’s report of the NBSCCC showed that the Catholic Church will only operate transparently when forced to do so by statutory Commissions of Inquiry.

“The new Vatican guidelines insist that bishops abide by the civil law of a country. Where there are no legal requirements to report abuse, as in the case of Ireland, the Vatican has nothing to say.

“It is time therefore that the state took on its responsibilities to keep Irish children safe and introduced statutory child protection measures that will apply to all religious, civil and statutory organisations.”

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