The Vatican published a manual of guidelines for bishops and church members across all the Roman catholic diocese in the world outlining detailed steps on how to handle reports of sexual abuse and molestation of minors and vulnerable adults by priests, deacons and prelates.
A new step-by-step 20-page document called “Vademecum”, Latin for Handbook, is a ‘tool’ at the church’s disposal designed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to help conduct a thorough investigation. It includes a form to be filled out specifying the alleged crime.
Nevertheless, the laws in the handbook aren’t new. “No new law is being promulgated, nor are new norms being issued,” prefect of the CDF writes in the in-house outlet Vatican News. The Vatican now directs church authorities and bishops to conduct an in-house probe as well as to lodge a formal complaint to the civil authorities, even when not obligated by the law. The previous policy required to report allegations to the police only if the local law claimed for it.
“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 states.
It urged church superiors to not dismiss anonymous allegations, or if they perceive it as vague or dubious. They are required to deliberate hearsay and social media allegations to initiate a preliminary probe.
The overruling of any allegation can only be justified if a Bishop determines the “manifest impossibility of proceeding,” in instances where the priest is not physically present in the given timeline of the alleged crimes.
The Vatican said this version of the “Vademecum” is version 1.0 and will update the manual based on eventual developments and suggestions. It also comes in six different languages, written in a precise and easy to follow manner.
“The real novelty … is that for the first time the procedure is described in an organized way – from the first report of a possible crime to the definitive conclusion,” an Archbishop said in an interview with Vatican News.
“Vademecum” includes a broad range of sexual abuses that clarifies as a crime. Apart from consensual or non-consensual sexual relations, it also criminalizes ‘physical contact for sexual gratification, exhibitionism, masturbation, inducement to prostitution, conversations and/or propositions of a sexual nature, which can also occur through various means of communication’ to minors under the age of 18 or vulnerable adults. The production, acquisition, distribution of pornography by clerics fall under the ambit of sexual abuse.
In 2019, Pope Francis abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” in churches that covered-up and silenced cases of unreported sexual abuses by clerics for many decades, fearing oppression of Catholics due to the controversial news of pedophilia.
Co-founder of an online resource center about abuse said that the new manual is “incrementally better” than the past one, but it should also institute a “zero tolerance” policy against the perpetrator – by permanent removal of the accused and the enabler from the clergy.
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