The Vatican has released a document that advises bishops to report the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to police, Reuters reported. It provides clearer language than any previous directive on how church leaders are to act when priests within their employ are accused of sex crimes. The 20-page "vademecum," or guidebook, was released in six languages on Thursday by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Prior to its release, bishops had been acting under an informal hodgepodge of directives and communications regarding the proper handling of sexual abuse allegations. The Vatican's doctrinal chief, Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria called the current instructions, "a dense forest of norms and procedures."
Thursday's vademecum is, according to Vatican News, intended to be less of a set of canonical laws and more of a step-by-step serious of instructions -- a "frequently asked questions," as the website describes it -- when it comes to dealing with allegations of abuse by clergy.
Monsignor Giacomo Morandi acknowledged that there is nothing new in the document. Rather, it's "new" in the sense that it's the first time all of the rules and procedures have been put together in an organized way, "from the first report of a possible crime to the definitive conclusion of the cause," as Morandi described it.
Some of the key points of the guidebook include directions to disclose abuse to police, even if no local legislation explicitly requires them to do so.
"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 handbook says.
The instructions also specify that church officials are to cooperate with local authorities when it comes to investigating these allegations, including complying with "legitimate" subpoena requests.
Further, the vademecum requires bishops to treat victims with "dignity and respect," as well as "welcome, attentive hearing and support, also through specific services, as well as spiritual, medical and psychological help, as required by the specific case." It also requires that the same be offered to the accused.
Additionally, the directives clarify what actually constitutes sexual abuse. The list of such crimes includes not only intercourse but also any physical contact for sexual gratification, as well as exhibitionism, masturbation, the production of pornography, and "conversations and/or propositions of a sexual nature."
The document does not carry with it the force of canonical law, and critics continue to criticize the Vatican for its steadfast refusal to issue a direct and formal requirement for bishops to disclose sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to local police. The Vatican insists that such a law could lead to ill-treatment of church officials in places where Catholics are a persecuted minority.
According to The Connecticut Post, many bishops have outright ignored existing guidelines in favor of protecting their priests.