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The Pope Just Laid Down Strict New Rules on Reporting Sex Abuse

Priests and nuns will now be required to tell church authorities about abuse and attempts to cover it up.

by Emma Ockerman
May 9 2019, 3:12pm

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Catholic dioceses around the world will be required to report incidents of sexual abuse, as well as efforts by higher-ups to conceal such allegations, to church authorities, according to new rules issued by Pope Francis Thursday.

While many dioceses in the United States and Europe have already developed such rules to ensure allegations are received confidentially, the scandal-plagued Catholic Church will now mandate that its one million nuns and priests tell Church authorities — and receive whistleblower protections — when they hear of abuse. Previously, there was no requirement to report abuse allegations, and it was up to the individuals themselves to determine whether they wanted to report.

“The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims, and harm the community of the faithful,” the pope wrote Thursday.

The pope’s announcement comes at a critical juncture for the Catholic Church, as its failure to deal with sexual abuse in its ranks is once again making headlines. Just this week, more than 300 Catholic clergy from dioceses in New Jersey were publicly accused of abuse.

The new rules don’t address what happens to an accused priest, and priests or nuns won’t have to report such allegations to police — something survivors and advocates have long demanded. Critically, though, the new rule can be applied retroactively, meaning the church could see an onslaught of old cases as a result. Furthermore, the rules will cover both children and vulnerable adults, matching Pope Francis’ recent reporting requirements for Vatican personnel and Vatican City diplomats.

The new rules come after the Catholic Church held a global summit to address sex abuse in February. Catholic dioceses now have until June 1, 2020, to institute a “public and accessible” method for reporting abuse allegations. U.S. bishops will gather in Baltimore in June to discuss accountability procedures.

COVER IMAGE: Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)