Talk to new bishops does not change guidelines on abuse, Vatican says

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A talk given to new bishops during
a Vatican-sponsored course does not represent new guidelines on the church’s
response to abuse against minors by religious, a Vatican spokesman said.

A 44-page report authored by French Msgr. Tony Anatrella
and just published by the Vatican publishing house “is not in any way —
as someone erroneously interpreted — a new Vatican document or a new
instruction or new guidelines for bishops,” Jesuit Father Federico
Lombardi said in a written statement released late Feb. 11.

The talk was part of a conference of experts given in
September and was “published together with other (talks) on different
subjects,” Father Lombardi wrote.

Msgr. Anatrella’s talk addressed emotional maturity and
deviant behaviors in the priesthood as well as church procedures for dealing
with accusations of the abuse of children by clergy.

The monsignor, a psychoanalyst and a consultant to the
pontifical councils for the family and for health care ministry, “does not
say anything new or different from what has been said up until now by relevant
church institutions,” Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican recently released the speeches, homilies and
reflections from last year’s course in a book, “Witnesses of the Risen One.”
The texts were published only in the original language in which they were
delivered. Since 2001, all newly ordained bishops serving in dioceses that
report to the Congregation for Bishops have been obliged to come to Rome in
September for an eight- or nine-day course for new bishops.

Some media outlets reported that Msgr. Anatrella’s talk,
written in French, said bishops are not obligated to report accusations of
abuse to authorities.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
mandated in a 2011 letter that in every nation and region, bishops should have
clear and coordinated procedures for protecting children, assisting victims of
abuse, dealing with accused priests, training clergy and cooperating with civil

Describing sexual abuse of minors as “a crime
prosecuted by civil law,” the doctrinal congregation said bishops should
follow local laws that require reporting cases of sexual abuse to police. Not
all countries mandate the reporting of abuse cases to police, however.

The U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of
Children and Young People” — first adopted in 2002 and revised in 2005
and 2011 — outlined how the church leaders would provide a safe environment
for children and young people in church-sponsored activities. It established
uniform procedures for handling sex-abuse allegations and adopted a “zero
tolerance” policy. It also required background checks and training in
child protection for church employees and required dioceses facing allegations
made about priests or other church workers to alert authorities, conduct an
investigation and remove the accused person from duty.

Last June, Pope Francis also approved new procedures for
the Vatican’s doctrinal office to investigate and judge claims of “abuse
of office” by bishops who allegedly failed to protect minors and
vulnerable adults from sex abuse.

In the portion of his talk on a bishop’s responsibility
concerning abuse accusations against one of his priests, Msgr. Anatrella reiterated
directives requiring bishops to open a canonical investigation as soon as
possible into alleged abuses in order to “establish the truth of the facts.”

After spelling out mandated church procedures concerning
such crimes, he also underlined the church’s call to bishops to follow local

The monsignor said that in countries where reporting was
mandatory, it was “not necessarily up to” the bishop to report to
civil authorities as soon as he has learned of an accusation, but up to the
alleged victim and/or the family.

Nevertheless, the monsignor wrote, the bishop always
possesses “the faculty” of reporting “in good conscience” the
abuse if necessary to civil authorities based on how serious the situation is.

Given the new powers of the Vatican’s doctrinal office to
investigate and penalize bishops for failing to protect minors, the monsignor
added that bishops have to be able to prove they acted upon learning of alleged
abuse, investigated allegations and sanctioned those found guilty according to
church laws.

“The bishops must be able to prove that he has tried
something without being lax in order to neutralize the acts of the abuser”
with canonical procedures, he wrote. The bishop will be disciplined — not
because of how the investigation turned out — but for a failure to act to
protect victims from assault by someone under his authority, he wrote.

In an interview Feb. 12 with the French news agency iMedia,
Msgr. Anatrella said: “For the church, it is obvious that there must
be cooperation between church tribunals and police and judicial
authorities” concerning the crime of abuse.

He also clarified his remark about the obligation falling
first to victims and families — not necessarily bishops — to report abuse in
countries where reporting is mandatory.

“I said in this paragraph that the bishop or his
representative will first encourage the minor-victim and his or her family to
file a complaint with the police. If they do not, then it is up to the church
authority to make a report,” he told the news agency.


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