Vatican Issues Child Sex Abuse Guidelines

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department presently in charge of priest sex abuse cases, has issued a circular letter to all the bishops of the world with its suggestions for dealing with the worldwide crisis of sexual abuse. The letter focuses its suggestions on five specific areas of concern to the Vatican. Here they are:
* Listening to the victims of abuse and offering “spiritual and psychological assistance”.
* Creating “safe environment” programs to prevent future abuse.
* Promoting “a healthy human and spiritual formation” of future priests, including “an appreciation of chastity and celibacy.” The guidelines also call for “an exchange of information” when candidates transfer from one seminary to another, or between dioceses or religious orders.
* Upholding the presumption of innocence when a priest is accused, yet conforming that a bishop or religious superior “is always able to limit the exercise of the cleric’s ministry” while the case is investigated.
* Stressing that “the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.”
The letter is widely available on the web and anyone who reads it will be puzzled by its publication and not clear as to what the Vatican hopes to accomplish. There is nothing new in the letter as far as the Church’s rhetoric. The fact that they really don’t say anything new leads one to believe the Vatican has still not come to grips with the depths of the problem or the severity of the suffering of the survivors.
Ultimate authority remains with the bishops who have acted in the view of many as the keystone cops. (Others may apply more sinister analogies especially after the Philadelphia debacle.) There is still no universal reporting requirement and there’s nary a mention of what to do with priests who move from one diocese to another after being accused of sexual abuse.
All in all, this isn’t news at all. It’s a weak and tardy response to a critical problem that needs radical measures. So far, the Church hierarchy is unwilling to consider such moves. That’s why civil authorities must continue to drag the Church to justice and accountability.