New Catholic Bishops Told They Don’t Have to Report Sexual Abuse to Police

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A Vatican official has told newly appointed bishops that they have no obligation to report instances of clerical sexual abuse, as it's the responsibility of the victims and their families. Pope Francis, left, leaves at the end of the Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, February 10. Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Updated | New Catholic bishops have been told that they have no obligation to report clerical child abuse, according to reports.

During a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella said they don’t have a duty to report abuse because it should be the responsibility of victims and their families to go to the police. The comments were first reported by John L. Allen at the Catholic news site earlier this week.

Anatrella, a psychtherapist and consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, is known for his controversial views on homosexuality, including that the acceptance of homosexuality in the West is creating “serious problems” for children. He also helped to write a training document for newly appointed bishops that further spells out the church’s stance on clerical sexual abuse.

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document, which was released by the Vatican earlier this month, reads. The document says bishops are required only to report the suspected abuse internally.

A Vatican source told Newsweek that the comments made during the presentation are Anatrella’s opinion and not an official Vatican position. The source added that in some countries it is difficult for clergy to report abuse to authorities due to the “quite hostile” relationship between church and state. In countries with corrupt police forces and hostile governments, for example, there is greater risk of not having a presumption of innocence and a fair trial, he said.

“What would that mean in communist countries that throw priests and bishops into jail just for mentioning the pope’s name?” the Vatican source said. “To turn over the investigation of an accusation that could be false in such a situation is something that must be weighed.”

The Catholic League, a Catholic civil rights organization, also said the comments made by Anatrella were solely his opinion, and a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said they were “not in any way—as someone has mistakenly interpreted—a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new ‘guidelines’ for bishops.”

Anatrella’s comments appear to be at odds with efforts made by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which held a week-long meeting earlier this month. The proposals from the commission, which will be sent to Pope Francis for his consideration, include “a request for him to remind all authorities in the Church of the importance of responding directly to victims and survivors who approach him,” the Vatican said in a press release.

Allen notes that the commission was not involved in the training session given by Anatrella amd wonders why the commission is “not entrusted with making such a presentation to new bishops.” The next course for new bishops will be held in September, Allen reports.

"In one sense, this isn’t surprising. As has pointed out, 'zero tolerance,' while often uttered by Catholic officials, isn’t even the official policy of the global church," Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement emailed to Newsweek.

"But it’s infuriating—and dangerous—that so many believe the myth that bishops are changing how they deal with abuse and that so little attention is paid when evidence to the contrary—like this disclosure by Allen—emerges," she said.

The commission was set up in March 2014 with the explicit goal of proposing initiatives for “protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church." Futhermore, the commission "is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

This story has been updated to include comments from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests​. Comments from the Vatican have also been added.

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