VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican told bishops around the world on Thursday they should report case of clergy sex crimes to police even when not legally bound to do so, in its latest effort to compel church leaders to protect minors from predator priests.
The Vatican issued a long-awaited manual for bishops and religious superiors on conducting in-house investigations into allegations of priests who rape and molest minors and vulnerable adults. While the Vatican has had detailed canonical norms in place for two decades, the laws continue to be ignored by some bishops who dismiss allegations by victims in favor of protecting their priests.
While the manual doesn’t have the force of a new law, it goes beyond the current Vatican policy about cooperating with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and police. That policy requires bishops and religious superiors to report allegations of sex crimes with minors only where local laws requires it.
The manual says: “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.”
And it says church leaders must comply with “legitimate" subpoena requests.
The manual, issued in a half-dozen languages, appears aimed in part at depriving bishops and religious superiors of their frequent excuses not to carry out preliminary investigations into accused priests or cooperate with law enforcement.
The manual states, for example, that anonymous allegations should not be dismissed outright, and that even hearsay and social media posts can constitute the basis on which to launch a preliminary probe.
In addition, the manual says bishops should not ignore allegations 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 only justification for dismissing an allegation outright, the manual says, is if the bishop determines the “manifest impossibility of proceeding,” such as if the accuser wasn’t under age 18 at the time or the priest wasn’t physically present when the alleged crimes took place.
It makes clear that the type of crimes that fall under sexual abuse is “quite broad” and includes not only sexual relations but any physical contact for sexual gratification. The manual lists exhibitionism, masturbation, pornography production and “conversations and/or propositions of a sexual nature” that can occur through a variety of means of communication as crimes that must be investigated.