STATEMENT BY: Peter Isely, (US Spokesperson/ECA Founding Member)
March 29, 2019. Today Pope Francis has put into church law for the small territory of the Vatican State what Vatican officials are touting as the most “advanced international thinking on the matter” of reporting, prosecuting and preventing child sex crimes and penalties for failing to report those crimes. Even though these changes apply to only several hundred Vatican state citizens and papal diplomats, the changes are being hailed by the Vatican as “the model” for bishops to follow around the world.
It’s appalling that the new law for the Vatican state does not even enact true zero tolerance for child sex crimes. Zero tolerance is simple and clear. Any cleric who has been determined to have raped or sexually assaulted a child, no matter when the crime occurred, is immediately removed from ministry and the priesthood. For example, this is the church law in the United States. Pope Francis’s “version” of zero tolerance does not even come close to reaching this standard. If bishops around the world would follow the model presented today by Pope Francis, the vast majority of child sex offenders will remain in ministry, do not have to be reported to civil authorities and will remain unidentified to the public.
Why? Because the new law for the Vatican state does not eliminate the canon law statute of limitations on child sex crimes. Although it extends the statute of limitations until the victim reaches the age of 38, it allows the vast majority of credibly accused clerics who have raped or assaulted children to remain in ministry. As church officials full well know, most of these crimes are not reported until the victim is well into adulthood, with studies showing the average age of victims who have come forward are past the age of 38.
The laws that Francis is putting into effect for the Vatican state are not, in fact, zero tolerance and represent a model that would allow scores of priests with known histories of abusing children to remain in ministry, transferred to new assignments, and will not punish or hold accountable bishops who cover up for them.
Equally astounding, when it appears that a priest is credibly accused of raping a child, he is allowed to remain in ministry and unidentified to the public until the completion of the Vatican judicial process, a complicated and confusing machinery not known for speed, transparency, accountability and impartiality.
Additionally, even when found guilty of committing a crime against a child, his colleagues can “rehabilitate” him and put him back in ministry. This is not zero tolerance.
And even when Vatican public officials are found to have covered-up child rape by not reporting it, they are not removed from their positions of authority, but only given a monetary fine. That’s not zero tolerance for covering up child sex crimes and the bishops around the world know it.
If you are a bishop or cardinal around the world, that is covering up child sex crimes, the model that Pope Francis presents is not that you are removed from your position of authority in the priesthood, but you are given a nominal fine.
At the end of the papal summit in February, Pope Francis dramatically declared a global ”war” on abuse in the church. Today he presented the “model” on how to win this war and declared victory in his first battle within the Vatican State, the territory for which he has complete and uncontested authority. Even though this small battle involves only a few hundred people and virtually no children who live there, the Vatican City is supposed to be a sanctuary for justice and the rule of law. Sadly, this is clearly not the case.
The Motu Proprio decree by Pope Francis today is at best confusing, inconsistent and often vague. Zero tolerance it is not and the bishops around the world know this.
Peter Isely, (US Spokesperson/ECA Founding Member)
Dr. Denise Buchanan (ECA Founding/Board Member)
Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) is a worldwide leadership organization of survivors of clergy abuse and human rights activists. Its mission is to compel the Roman Catholic Church to end clergy abuse, protect children, and seek justice for victims. ECA assembly members represent over 21 countries from 6 continents. https://www.ecaglobal.org – @ENDCLERGYABUSE –https://www.facebook.com/ENDCLERGYABUSE/ – firstname.lastname@example.org