Authors Greg Erlandson and Matthew Bunson continue the discussion they began in the book from Our Sunday Visitor, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal. Send us feedback at email@example.com. Kindle Edition available for download at amazon.com.
At Pope Benedict XVI's direction, the Vatican has asked every national bishop's conference around the world to prepare guidelines, appropriate to their local circumstances, to apply Church norms on clerical abuse of minors.
The deadline for the guidelines is May 31, 2012.
In a letter dated May 3 and released by the Vatican May 16, U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, [doctrinal] congregation prefect, said 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 authorities.
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.
Since the early 1990s about two dozen bishops' conferences, starting mainly with English-speaking countries, have drawn up guidelines for dealing with accusations of sexual abuse of minors filed against clergy and other church employees. Other conferences -- for example, the Italian bishops' conference -- have said they did not draw up guidelines because bishops were obliged to follow canon law and special provisions enacted in 2001 by Blessed Pope John Paul II and in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the fact that conferences were given a precise deadline and only 12 months to draft their guidelines demonstrates how seriously the Vatican takes the matter.
"The aim is to give bishops a strong common denominator for drafting guidelines appropriate to their own national situation, with its unique culture and legislation," he told reporters May 16.
The guidelines of several countries, including the United States, have been adopted as mandatory norms in those countries and approved by the Vatican.
The special provisions issued in the past 10 years expanded or extended several points of church law: they defined a minor as a person under age 18 rather than 16; set a statute of limitations of 20 years, instead of 10 years, after the victim's 18th birthday for bringing a church case against an alleged perpetrator; established an abbreviated administrative procedure for removing guilty clerics from the priesthood; and included child pornography in the list of serious crimes which could bring expulsion from the priesthood.
Read more here.
The full text of Cardinal Levada's letter is here, and the full text of the document that bishops' conferences are supposed to consult in preparing their guidelines is here.
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