Twin Cities Archdiocese sees pros and cons to Pope's sex abuse proclamation

Pope Francis ponders during the weekly general

The impact "likely will be felt most intensely outside the West, since places such as the US, Canada and some parts of Western Europe (though, ironically, not the pope's backyard in Italy), already have fairly robust reporting systems", said Vatican expert John Allen, on the online religious newspaper Crux Now.

One of the most important elements is the identification, as a specific category, of so-called cover-ups, defined as "actions or omissions meant to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the delicts" of sexual abuse.

Canon lawyer Kurt Martens called the new law "revolutionary" by making sex abuse of minors and adults, as well as official cover-ups, subject to mandatory reporting.

According to the provisions of the motu proprio, someone reporting abuse can not be subjected to "prejudice, retaliation or discrimination" because of what they report.

The obligation for all clerics, and all men and women religious, to "report promptly" all accusations of abuse of which they become aware, as well as any omissions and cover-ups in the management of cases of abuse, to ecclesiastical authorities. The new document establishes and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable when it comes to safeguarding minors as well as abuses carried out against adults with violence, threats or an abuse of authority.

Francis noted that sometimes the problem lies with the superior herself, a reference to cases where religious superiors submitted to demands placed on them by bishops, to the detriment of her own sisters and novices. The decree can be applied retroactively, meaning priests and nuns are now required to report even old cases of sexual wrongdoing and cover-ups - and enjoy whistleblower protections for doing so.

There are new indications regarding the role of the Metropolitan Archbishop in preliminary investigations: if the accused individual is a Bishop, the Metropolitan receives a mandate from the Holy See to investigate.

She says there should be an exception for when a separate criminal investigation is underway by law enforcement, since notifying a suspect could interfere with the probe. And in a novelty, the law requires that if victims request it, they must be told of the outcome of the investigation - again a response to complaints that victims are kept in the dark about how their claims were handled.

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But Scicluna said it obviously covered lay people as well.

It was the farthest-reaching reaction to date from the Vatican as it tries to address the sexual abuse scandal, applying mandatory new procedures for all Catholic Church diocese across the globe on the reporting of alleged sexual abuse.

The new law stops short of that.

Victims and their advocates have long complained that bishops and religious superiors have escaped justice for having engaged in sexual misconduct themselves, or failed to protect their flocks from predator priests.

The new norms dealing with cover-ups are a good first step, but in civil society as in the church, good laws are not enough.

Once the investigation is over, the metropolitan sends the results to the Vatican for a decision on how to proceed.

The new rules come into force on June 1 and will be re-evaluated after a three-year trial period.

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