Vatican publishes global manual to protect minors from predators

A manual to protect minors from predatory clergy has been published by the Vatican.

Targeted at bishops and religious superiors conducting in-house investigations into allegations of priests who rape and molest minors and vulnerable adults, the long-awaited publication offers advice about how to handle cases of clergy sex crimes.

“These documents constitute an ‘instrument’ intended to help local Church authorities in the ‘delicate task of correctly carrying out cases’ involving priests ‘when they are accused’ of child abuse, says Cardinal Luis Ladaría Ferrer, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Translated into several languages, the manual advises bishops and superiors that all allegations of abuse should be investigated and that they must report sex abuse to the police.

“Even in cases where there is no explicit legal obligation 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 other minors from the danger of further criminal acts,” the manual advises.

This is a significant change from the previous Vatican policy about bishops and superiors cooperating with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and police. That said they had to report allegations of sex crimes with minors only where local laws require it.

The manual also says bishops and superiors must comply with subpoena requests.

The manual says anonymous allegations should not be dismissed outright. Nor should allegations be ignored just because they fall outside the church’s statute of limitations since the Vatican can at any time decide to waive the time limit.

The new document also suggests hearsay and social media posts can constitute the basis on which to start an investigation and preliminary probe.

The only time dismissing an allegation is justified, the manual advises, is if the bishop establishes the “manifest impossibility of proceeding.” As an example, a case could be dismissed if it were found that the priest wasn’t physically present when the alleged crimes took place.

The manual explains that the type of crimes that fall under the label of sexual abuse is “quite broad.”

They include not only sexual relations but any physical contact for sexual gratification, including actions bishops frequently dismiss as mere “boundary violations.”

It also warns that bishops can be prosecuted canonically for negligence if they fail to take allegations seriously and investigate them.

The new publication’s origins lie in Pope Francis’ 2019 sex abuse summit, in which the presidents of all the world’s bishops conferences came to the Vatican for a four-day tutorial on preventing abuse.

On the first day of the summit, Francis issued 21 points of reflection going forward, with the first point a recommendation that the Vatican issue a handbook to help bishops investigate and prosecute sex crimes.

While the Vatican has issued a variety of abuse-related documents over the years to protect minors, the new manual provides a point-by-point instruction on how to conduct investigations, from start to finish.


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